The ups and downs of the blueberry season

After having overcome the problem caused by the Lobesia Botrana, the fall in production due to the strong frosts of the 2013 and the national port stoppage that affected exports during the key months of last year, this season the blueberries seem to be sailing without major complications . However, some unexpected problems have caused some tremors.

In fact, until last week the alarms had been turned on at least a couple of times.

The first triggers the port strike on the west coast of the US, which until last week still kept the operations paralyzed, which has meant that many Chilean ships are waiting to download the shipments. And, just over a week ago, concern was again raised among blueberry exporters, when in Australia it was indicated that the cause of an outbreak of hepatitis A that affected 14 people could be the Chilean blueberries that were part of a mix of frozen berries, which was subsequently discarded.

To all of the above, it is added that blueberries with an inadequate quality and condition would have arrived in China, which could negatively impact prices and the image of domestic exporters in that market, although it would be a minor problem.

From iQonsulting explain that, according to what they are informed by importers of fruit from different markets, "we see a season with greater volumes and with some variability in quality, but nothing very different from the previous ones".

Higher production and export

For this season it is estimated that the production will reach the 120 thousand tons of blueberries, which implies a growth of 13% with respect to the 106 thousand of the 2013-2014 season, where the effect of the strong frosts that hit the central area in the 2013.

As a result of the foregoing, exports have also shown a recovery with respect to the previous season.

The projection of Asoex is that in this season the shipments of fresh blueberries would grow around an 13,5%, reaching 86 a thousand tons, versus the 74.400 of 2013-2014. If this volume were reached, it would be very close to the 2012 / 2013 period, when 87.079 tons were registered.

Up to the 15 in February, a total of 83.097 tons had been exported, according to the data of the Committee of Blueberries. This means a growth of 25% with respect to the same period last season, when the total shipments had been 66.381 tons.

Of these, 51.192 tons have been sent to the USA, with a participation of 62% with respect to the total and a growth of 20% with respect to the previous season, without considering Canada, where to date they have been sent 3.383 tons (4% of total exported).

Europe, meanwhile, is responsible for the 33% of shipments, with 19.497 tons, which implies an 33% growth compared to the 14.699 tons of the previous season, and a share of 22% of total exports. Finally, Asia, with 8.771 tons, has had a growth of 44% with respect to the previous season and represents the 11% of shipments, according to Asoex data.

Latin America and the Middle East have also had significant growth, with 45% and 25% respectively, although volumes - 110 and 114 tons each - are not yet significant.

In addition, the United States has been recovering compared to last season, showing an increase of 12,4%, until week 7, despite the drop in its global share of exports.

"Of these markets, in the current season in relation to the historical, Asia has grown to 10%, while the US has dropped to 61,1% to date", Says Andrés Armstrong, president of the Committee of Blueberries.

Low impact

The strike that still affects the ports of the west coast of the United States directly impacted the general shipments of Chilean fruits.

In fact, last week, the president of Fedefruta, Juan Carolus Brown, along with Cristián Allendes, director of the organization, met with the US ambassador in Chile to express their concern about the issue. According to the Chilean leaders, the losses for the national exports of fruits would be evaluated in US $ 50 million.

However, for blueberries the situation has not been so complex, because the main destination within that country for this Berry is the east coast, according to Gabriel Layseca, an analyst at iQonsulting.

To date, shipments to the east coast would reach 40.239 tons, equivalent to 79% of shipments to that country, while on the other side of the US. only 10.953 tons (21%) have been exported.

"While there will be some impact, this will not be greater than the industry as a whole", Says the analyst of the consultancy.

In any case, the final effects on blueberry exports have yet to be determined.

"Last season, on this date, 24% of blueberries were shipped to the USA. on the east coast. Today the 21,5% has embarked and probably this percentage will decrease in the coming weeks, given the unemployment. These figures show a negative externality of the strike at the port of Los Angeles. Regarding the sales of the product, it is still premature to issue an opinion"Explains Armstrong.

normal quality

Condition and quality are key for all markets, since sending standards lower than those required implies price losses and also of buyers' confidence, with consequent damage to the image of Chile.

In this regard, Chilean shipments to the US they have been within the expected parameters.

"Regarding the quality of blueberries, in the United States there is nothing special to discuss. Some uneven lots are seen from time to time, but within the normal margins in which an average season moves", Indicates Gabriel Layseca.

Similar is the perception from Asoex. "In terms of quality and condition, this season has been completed without major problems with all the high demands for this product, whether in the US, Europe or Asia", Says Ronald Bown, president of the Asoex.

Armstrong adds that "Each season has diverse climatic situations that can affect or favor the condition and quality of the fruit. This season, except for areas that suffer from a severe drought, high quality fruit and good condition are being exported, which is being reflected in the partial results that are being known.".

Similar opinion they have in the iQonsulting: "There is no great alarm about the quality and condition of Chilean blueberries. In the United States, which is the most important market, we have a good image and we maintain it. I think the industry is taking the issue of quality very seriously".

Well China

Regarding China, the season comes with good results in terms of volume. "In the case of China, a high supply is observed, since there are three weeks in a row with arrivals over the 650 tons. To date, an 45% more volume has been sent than last season, which has had an impact on prices, which have declined mainly because some uneven lots have arrived, with varying sizes and quality"Says Layseca.

He adds that, as a consequence of this, "the minimum prices have steadily decreased by trading at 8 USD / 12 * 125g, while the maximum prices have been maintained for approximately 4 weeks, in 19,2 USD / 12 * 125g, which speaks of equally high quality offer in the market".

Ronald Bown, meanwhile, insists that "In general, Chilean products have great global recognition for their level of quality, condition and safety. Together with the above, it is recognized the faithful compliance with all international regulations. Particularly in the case of China, according to the reports of the consulting companies of the sector, prices of blueberries in particular, have presented an average increase over the previous season".

They were not blueberries

The news generated concern. The appearance of a focus of hepatitis A in Australia was linked with Chilean blueberries that will have been part of a mix of frozen fruits, which had been mixed in China, consumed by those who had become ill.

Ronald Brown states "that they have been found in plastic bags with a mix of frozen berries (including blueberries) of Chinese origin in Australia, it is not the responsibility of our industry, which does not have any interference in the handling of this fruit, although blueberries of our origin have been used , which is impossible to determine objectively. Likewise, we are not aware of the existence of any report from Australia that implies the responsibility of our products in the problem they have detected.".

Anyway, at the end of last week, the Australian authorities reported that the contamination would not have been caused by the blueberries, but could be by the raspberries of the mix, of which the origin is not known.

Steven Chaur, executive director of Patties Foods, the supplier company of the Australian mix, explained in the statement that "Research through our supply chain has identified a specific source of raspberries as a potential common link for potential safety issues raised by health authorities".


Source: Revista del Campo


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