Opinion: Blueberries from 2019 to 2020: the turning point

By Cort Brazelton, founder of the International Blueberry Organization and Co-CEO of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, Inc.

The year 2019 will be considered as the year in which the world blueberry industry began a new trajectory. 2020 will be the year when change begins to become the "new normal".

Last year, developments in the supply curve of fresh blueberries began to offer a new level of consistency. As a result, the greater consistency and availability of blueberries provide proportionally the highest expectations of the product delivered. Since the rise in blueberry consumption began with the release of health messages in the late 90s, industry growth and business opportunities have been fundamentally driven by supply.

Recognizing the substantial efforts over the past 20 years by many public and private entities to significantly improve the quality of the product delivered to consumers, the fact is that most of the blueberries that consumers buy today do not exceed their wishes and expectations.

Simply put, when we look back, the biggest driver of opportunities in the industry has been perishable commodities in supply and demand: having a product, and the greatest benefits have been obtained by having blueberries when there are fewer of them. While the transition of this reality has been predicted for many years by me and by many others, it has been surprising how long it took for reality to begin to establish itself. 2019 was the year he began to feel. In 2020, the change from a supply-driven industry to a quality-driven industry will be increasingly real.

Why did it take so long to get here?

Market Growth: Part of this 'prolonged adolescence' in the transition from supply to blueberry quality is market driven, and part of the delay is due to genetics and horticulture. On the market side, those of us who were lucky enough to be in the industry in recent decades have enjoyed market dynamics that defy gravity. In fact, it was not uncommon for volumes and prices to increase in tandem, or at least for volume to increase as the value of the category grew faster.

Certainly there have been potholes in fresh and processed blueberry markets since the 2000s. Those of us who have been present for a while remember them very well: several market accidents processed in North America and around the world; the crisis of botanical lobesia in Chile; and the Spanish offer shock of 2017 are all examples.

But in general, blueberry production has continued to grow in most supply windows and in most markets, while market demand has grown at a similar rate and, in some cases, faster, especially in Europe and Asia Keep in mind that these are generalizations about aggregate trends that ignore many details. Compared to other products, it has been a fairly stable trip for blueberries.

Limitations on the supply side: On the side of horticulture and genetics, although it is not such an important factor in the processed business, the extremely wasted windows of the fresh blueberry market remained relatively undersupplied as the market continued to grow. This was due to the simple limitation of horticultural techniques of the time and the physiological and genetic limitations of the species. This has also changed.

In the last 10 years in particular, the advent of new genetics in low categories and without chills combined with new horticultural techniques and cropping systems (for example, growth of structures, substrate, nutrition and pruning techniques, etc.) have changed the game, opening new growing regions, new sources of supply and new means of production in existing regions that has allowed the accelerated closure of these windows of opportunity.

Even with growth in regions such as Peru, Mexico, Morocco and southwest China, the supply in those "shoulder periods" remains remarkably lower than peak supply periods. That said, the availability today in all world markets in September and October, or March and April, is much more dynamic and less scarce than three years ago. Often, the supply side does not take long to adapt to meet market demands.

So where is the industry heading now?

Veterans of the agricultural products industry have seen this dynamic before in many crops, and although in Blueberry Land we love to believe that we are special (I certainly believe that blueberries are special!), There is much we can learn from cycles and stories of other highs. value produce crops. I think we are still many years away from a fresh supply curve throughout the year, free of notable peaks and valleys. However, in the coming years, the peaks will eventually look more like hills than mountains, and the canals will begin to look more like ditches than valleys.

While this change will take more than five and less than 10 years, there is another major change underway. There is a substantial change in the expectations of the consumer (B2C) and the final and retail handler (B2B) regarding the quality offered and the quality demanded. While the dynamics of a supply-driven market will still feel sometimes during the next five to 10 years, 2019 marks the year in which the transition of our industry began from a supply-driven industry to a quality-driven industry . 2020 is the first year in which we, as an industry, must own this reality and recognize its inevitability.

This is essential for the competitiveness, relevance and credibility of our product and our industry. This change will penetrate the businesses of all companies and partner organizations involved in blueberries: it is time to really focus on the consumer experience in blueberries.

For anyone who has read Marshall Goldsmith's What Got You Here Won't Get You There, and anyone who has not read it, this could be a good time to retake it. Our industry is experiencing a paradigm shift. The rules of the business model that have worked for years, even decades, will be challenged by this new paradigm. Some will play defense and others will look for ways to reflect, adapt and play a strong offensive.

Recent developments in Chile offer an example for a mature industry. The Chilean industry that, after the US UU., It is the most established and mature blueberry industry in the world, has an effort in the whole industry to play both offensive and defensive.

Industry leaders in Chile recognize the challenges of their distance to the market and seek to take advantage of their experience as a region of growth and export by promoting a new level of voluntary quality standards. They strive to improve and improve the quality delivered by producers through recommended processes, approved and eliminated varieties, and many other approaches that deserve attention.

No one stays still. New industries in places like Morocco, Mexico, Peru and southern Africa are still in the middle of the establishment phases and have the opportunity to make appropriate investments in systems, varieties, infrastructure and technology not yesterday, but tomorrow.

Meanwhile, industry leaders and holders in established regions in Europe, Chile, Argentina and North America are actively renovating and expanding their facilities, replacing old varieties, planting new varieties, investing in new technology in their fields and plants. Packaging with an improved focus on the demands of the future.

All these efforts focus on the same result. The opportunity is to give the consumer what he wants. Even in the US UU., The largest market in the world, penetration is only slightly higher than 50%, with a small portion of those consumers buying and consuming most of the fruit. This is surprising considering the market penetration and the level of consumption in a category such as strawberries, which has a much higher market penetration and per capita consumption.

There are other crops and other products that would love to take the coveted space that blueberries have earned among their loyal consumers. We, as an industry, must protect and respect the loyal consumers we have by continually investing to deliver the product they want and deserve, while increasing the "part of the stomach" with consumers who have not yet fallen in love with our products. and they are still waiting for us to give them what they want.

There is no single path to this result; There are many. No company controls the route. However, if we are in the blueberry business, we are all in the same truck. At the risk of mixing metaphors, the opportunity to grow the cake is much greater than the opportunity to steal pieces from others.

I care a lot about the blueberry industry. I am worried about some of the challenges we face. I am concerned about the level of change required for many in the industry to remain competitive and I am concerned about the speed of establishment and possible “scale errors” that can be made in some of the regions in active growth.

But I am also encouraged by the amount of innovation and new ideas that move around the world and within the blueberry premises that are resulting in greater efficiency and, ultimately, greater quality. I am excited about the number of new consumers discovering blueberries in the growing markets of Asia and Europe, the remaining margin for further growth in North America and, in general, the fact that improvements are being made in the quality of the product that will help increase consumption among consumers of existing blueberries, as well as create new blueberry fans.

2019 was a year of substantial changes: excellent for some, challenging for others. One of my New Year's resolutions in my daily blueberry life is to make 2020 the year of quality and excellence: better quality in everything we do and support all blueberries to focus and achieve the same.

In that sense, best wishes in 2020, applaud the improvement of quality and eat your blueberries.

Cort Brazelton, is the founder and co-CEO of the International Blueberry Organization of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, Inc., an international blueberry breeding and breeding company that supplies commercial producers worldwide for more than 40 years.