Director of Proarándanos Perú: Miguel Bentín and the comparative advantages of Peru

Peru began to transit the international blueberry market in 2008 by sending small sample volumes, but it was in 2014 when the first exports took place, in the amount of USD 30 million. Since that year, growth has been permanent and sustained, with an average of 50% annually.

Currently, the blueberry is on the way to becoming the main product of the Peruvian agro-export basket and is already in second place, only USD 56 million of the total commercialization of the grape, which historically has been the first exportable fruit product.

The growth of Peruvian blueberry exports has been so exponential that in five years it has become number one in exports of this fruit to the main international markets.

Approximately 90% of its production is concentrated in the La Libertad and Lambayeque regions, and the rest distributed on the coast, from the Ancash region to the Arequipa region, in climatic conditions that fluctuate from the most tropical, (Lambayeque, Piura) , moderate and temperate, (Trujillo, Lima, Cañete, Ica and Arequipa).

We talked at the beginning of 2020 with Miguel Bentín, former president of Proarándanos Perú, and current director of that organization, who, despite his youth, is a former producer and exporter with his Agrícola Valle y Pampa, and one of the founders of the Peruvian blueberry industry.

Is the great growth of the Peruvian blueberry industry sustainable over time?

  • The Peruvian blueberry industry has grown at an exponential rate over the past 5 years, going from approximately 3,000 MT in the 2014/15 season to 110,000 MT so far in 2019/20. We can expect that at the close Peru will become the main blueberry exporter on the planet. Regionally speaking, Peru, considering what was produced in 2019, has contributed to doubling the volume produced in the region (Argentina, Uruguay and Chile together contribute approximately 120,000 MT). It is clear that this increase in supply generated by Peru is by no means going to be innocuous, even if its impact is already visible, but I do not consider the sustainability of the category to be threatened by it.

    Putting us in context, the global blueberry market today has a permanent offer every month of the year, which is proven to increase consumption, favoring the category. However, what has been happening is that the market is maturing towards a different competitive dynamic, where the tendency of marked “firsts” (empty windows to attend) to disappear and high efficiency and consistency in quality are required to keep the business attractive, both in field productivity (performance and cost), in local and export logistics, and in the quality of the product in front of the consumer.

    Another very possible change will be the contraction of supply from producing regions that see their competitiveness weakened in this new context, which could be covered by Peruvian production. Although the production of Peru has concentrated a large part of its volume between the months of September and November, it is present almost permanently in the year.

Is there a strategy to stop this growth and consolidate the industry with new varieties and better management?

  • I do not know if there is a coordinated or general strategy, however, it does show that the trend is geared towards improving productivity and quality through better genetics. On the other hand, naturally continuous improvement in handling will continue to occur, also contributing to the same purpose.

    It should be noted that the agro-export sector as a whole agrees that the appropriate path is that of diversification. Investment in blueberry cultivation is still active, but other new crops that are seen as potential are already being looked at. Likewise, also at the sectoral level, it is fully agreed that the work of opening and improving access to markets has been and continues to be fundamental for the healthy growth of our portfolio of export fruit and vegetable products.

Do you agree with the statement that bilberry will be Peru's main agro-export product in 2020?

  • At least it will be located and maintained in the top 3 in the following years.

Do you think organic blueberry will displace conventional blueberry in the near future?

  • The well-known growing trend in demand for organic products makes it attractive to make an effort to participate in this category. I do not have the precise data, but I understand that in Peru we already have a relatively important supply of organic blueberry, although a minority.

    I think that in general the market is demanding increasingly “organic” products, which is evident both in the prices and in the restrictions for maximum residue limits (MRLs) that are increasingly limited.

    On the other hand, organic production is increasingly feasible, with a growing supply of more accessible and efficient inputs, as well as management experience. If this trend continues, it is possible that in the future the vast majority of export volume will technically become organic, which could even make it lose its differentiation to the subcategory, transforming it into a standard.

What is the main threat to the development of the Peruvian blueberry industry?

  • It cannot be lost sight that the growth in supply does not only come from Peru, as there are developing regions that are going to compete with Peru's volume directly or are going to reduce the profitability of parts of their season.

    In our latitude I consider that South Africa and the still incipient Colombia will be players with whom we will have to live, in addition to those of always.

    In the counter season, there is always the presence of the late production of the northern hemisphere which, when it manages to maintain its presence until September, is the volume with which the Peruvian blueberry must deal to take place in the market. This is definitely a risk that must be monitored and anticipated to adapt to changes in the competitive context.

    Internally, it is essential that the joint effort between the government and the private sector continue to accelerate and expand access to markets, raising barriers for them. Without this management, the sector could not have achieved the growth that we know in a healthy way. Therefore, to more markets, fewer risks.

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