Latin America Harvest Update:

Blueberry prices reach all-time highs

“As the South American blueberry season develops, a series of interesting factors are placing prices at historic highs in the world market,” in the words of Luciano Fiszman, of Gourmet Trading Company. "As a result of El Niño, volumes from Peru are considerably lower this season, which is causing a domino effect throughout the sector." Fiszman gives us an update on how the different blueberry-producing countries in South America are facing the difficulties and how importers and distributors are facing this situation.

Starting with Peru, this country is the most important producer of blueberries in the world. However, production volumes to date have dropped by 50 percent due to the strong impact of El Niño. "The warm pattern, which includes higher than normal temperatures in autumn and winter, has caused noticeable poor flowering in some varieties and regions." It has caused a shortage of Peruvian blueberries, which has translated into rising prices and uncertainty in the market. However, Peru remains the clear leader at this time of year.

Peru's productive decline presents opportunities for Argentina. “Favorable weather conditions, lower growing and harvesting costs, decent quality and, most importantly, improved prices have led to an increase in export shipments,” says Fiszman. "Argentina is helping to mitigate the shortage caused by Peru and everything indicates that it will have a promising season."

Although Mexico's main window is in spring, this country produces blueberries almost all year round in different regions. "Right now, Mexico's share of blueberries is small, but it is constant and the country supplies the market uninterruptedly." Mexico's proximity to the US market makes it the most natural supplier. "Producers relentlessly pursue the cash market and the fight for blue fruit can be distressing," notes Fiszman.

Chile has a consolidated blueberry sector and a diversity of producing regions. This country was, for many years, the predominant counterseasonal region, until it was displaced by Peru in recent years. Chile is expected to play an important role in filling the supply gap caused by the situation in Peru. Although Chile arrives on the market later in the season, it is the greatest opportunity to obtain reasonable volumes this counterseason campaign. “Gourmet Trading is known for its strong relationships with producers, and we are at the forefront of importing volume from Chile this season,” says Fiszman.

Market uncertainty and price adjustment
Although South American blueberry growers, importers and distributors are working diligently to meet demand, the unpredictability adds a layer of uncertainty. «It is not very clear when the market will receive a sufficient volume to satisfy the appetite for blueberries and players in the sector have to deal with the unpredictability of supply. This, in turn, affects the dynamics of prices,” explains Fiszman, who expects prices to adjust as soon as the market begins to receive greater volumes from Peru and Chile. «As more fruit becomes available, I think prices will reach a greater balance. The market will gradually stabilize as production levels equalize and immediate shortages are resolved. However, the big question is when this will happen.

Strategy modification
How has this changed Gourmet Trading Company's strategy for the imported blueberry season? “We have taken a proactive approach to addressing the challenges,” says Fiszman. «The fruit from Peru and Chile is received in bulk and packaged at destination. This ensures a constant supply and has also helped in packaging the correct formats just before loading orders for customers. In addition, the integrity of the product is protected by classifying fruits that should not be in a clamshell«.

«What also helps is the close collaboration we have with Chilean producers. That has given us a unique advantage. “We are one of the few companies already offering Chilean blueberries and these strong relationships will help us continue to supply high quality blueberries over the next five months, along with fruit from Peru and Mexico.”

In conclusion, the South American blueberry season faces challenges. However, the response of countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Chile is helping to maintain a sense of stability. “As the overseas season progresses, the industry will continue to find innovative ways to meet the growing demand for fresh blueberries,” concludes Fiszman.

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