The South African blueberry industry is in a period of strong growth, due to good demand from the United Kingdom and the European Union, as well as an incipient interest in the domestic market. It is also reaffirmed thanks to sudden growth (although somewhat earlier) in Australia, where many of the new varieties used by the South African industry were developed.
There are three companies that dominate the production of blueberries in South Africa: Berryworld South Africa, United Exports and Haygrove SA, which is a subsidiary of the British Haygrove.
Each of them provides its producers with its own line of licensed blueberries, but all focus especially on varieties that need a few hours of cold. Berryworld South Africa owns the licensing rights of some plants developed by the University of Florida, such as Snowchaser and Jewel, in addition to some new Australian varieties.
On the other hand, United Exports has invested in the Australian Blue Early earning program, responsible for the OzBlu series. These plants are based on the Southern Highbush blueberry, which is perennial, and the company produces blueberries worldwide: Chile, Peru, USA. UU. and Morocco, among others. In South Africa, United Exports has about 20 producers, which are divided equally between the traditional berry growing regions of the south of the country and the new regions, such as Gauteng, Limpopo and the North-West Province. United Exports has been producing stone fruits, citrus fruits and table grapes for 15 for years, and now these producers add blueberries to their wallet.
United Exports distributes its production geographically to grow its blueberries when the rainy season ends in each region and, thus, dispose of them the 52 weeks of the year, according to Roger Horak, managing director of United Exports. “Production is increasing considerably, driven by demand. In the national market, we have experienced spectacular growth, and we want it to continue developing thanks to our OzBlu brand. Our varieties are very similar to each other throughout the year, so we can provide consumers with a constant product throughout the year ”.
Horak adds that, since it is a new product for South African consumers, and, in addition, quite expensive, United Exports wants them to associate the OzBlu brand with tasty and sweet “berries” all year long. "The new varieties that need few hours of cold are infinitely better in taste and sugar levels than those that were previously, which were soft, pasty and acidic"He says.
This year, the company expects to plant 1.000 more hectares to double its production. With this increase, they expect the price of blueberries to be reduced in the local market over the next 24 or 36 months. It is said that blueberries occupy the position in which avocados were 35 years ago, when they were a niche subtropical fruit instead of the essential food they are today. “Without a doubt they are a great product and an excellent snack”, corroborates the producer.
United Exports produces approximately 2.500 tons of blueberries a year, two thirds of which in the new regions of the north of the country. This is where the harvest season begins, before moving south, where it is less hot, and its peak takes place in August or September. In the last three years, its production has not stopped increasing, since it planted the first blueberries in 2013, which exported to the United Kingdom, its largest market. Regarding global demand, Horak expects an increase of between 25% and 30%.