Get key information on the 2022 Blueberry Market Trends 

The increasing reference to the blueberry fruit as a super fruit would be an understatement in explaining its high antioxidant content, matching its upward trend in demand within the past decade. Whether cultivated, wild, fresh or frozen, health reports show that blueberries contain high amounts of essential nutrients and fibre. The berry has been processed in almost every way imaginable, including freezing, dried, syrups, purees, yoghurt, juices, teas, dietary supplements, and more, driving the already high demand for fruit, especially across Europe.

The overall health benefits among millennials and the growing middle class, alongside their rising disposable income, have been significantly responsible for further driving the demand for fruit. The onset of the global pandemic in 2020 further accelerated the move towards more healthy diets and the demand for blueberries has continued to grow for fresh and frozen products. 

According to BFAP blueberry production increased from 151,000 tons in 2001 to around 1.5 million tons in 2021, equivalent to a 12% per annum growth rate. Currently, the United States is the world’s largest producer of blueberries, as well the as the top importer, with Peru being the top exporter across the world.

Global demand of blueberries 

Indexbox estimates that, for the seventh year in a row, global berry imports  increased by 2.6% to 2.9M tonnes in 2020, indicating a strong increase from 2012 to 2020. The volume increased at an average annual rate of 5.4% over the last eight years, and in value terms, berry imports rose significantly to $14.8B.

The United States and the European Union are expected to remain as the largest importers across the world. The US, the most significant contributor to global blueberry production, is also the largest importer of the product in the world, taking up 32.2% of the global market share, equivalent to USD 1.3 billion. According to FAO, these regions (the US and European Union) will be responsible for over 31% of global imports in 2030. As a breakdown, Europe’s import of blueberries has increased from 45,000 tonnes in 2015 to 113,000 tonnes in 2019. Additionally, just in 2019, the import volume jumped by 41%, compared to volumes in 2018.

Most of the African blueberry sector is focused on the European market. According to CBI, Germany and the United Kingdom are the leading markets for blueberries, although the United Kingdom is closest to reaching maturity. A large and increasing part of the European supply is traded and packed in the Netherlands. Additionally, France, Germany, Italy, and Eastern European countries have lots of potential in the coming years, with untapped opportunities for blueberries.

CBI also states that despite the ever-increasing supply and lower average prices, Europe continues to import more blueberries every year, with more opportunities for value-added supplies and cost-competitive firms. Yet the demand for high quality is also increasing, so simply focusing on supplying commodity blueberries may not be enough. In other words, profitability in blueberries will depend on consistent quality. 

Production of blueberries across the world 

In 2020, the global supply of blueberries stood at 1.4 million tons; from around 200,000 hectares planted across the world. With this, the International Blueberry Organisation (IBO) projects that world production would increase by 12.6% by 2024.

On the other hand, Southern hemisphere countries accounted for almost 40% of the growth in global production during this period, reaching almost 300,000 tonnes in 2019. This spread of production has expanded the seasonal presence of blueberries on the market to all 12 months of the year, increasing the availability to consumers and driving global demand further. Peru and China have also become important global players in blueberry supply in the past several seasons.

Across Africa, the largest producers and traders are South Africa in first place, followed by Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Morocco, and the Central African Republic. By country, the South African industry is projected to reach a production of 50,000 tons by 2023, and this would mean achieving 35,000 tons in export per year. With 72% of its blueberries imported to the UK and Netherlands, this growth would place the country in the top five blueberry exporting countries. Zimbabwe, the second largest exporter, has also matured significantly over the past two years and has attracted at least seven of the world’s top blueberry groups and breeders. For this reason, the country presents the opportunity to stretch out the region’s blueberry season, with harvests starting mid-to-late May.

According to BFAP there is a strong production growth in recent years in Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and most recently in Namibia. These countries have the advantage of harvesting fruit early and entering the European markets before South Africa’s ability to supply and when market prices are generally higher. It is expected that this growth will continue in conjunction with expansion in other African countries in the next few years.

Peru competes directly with Southern African countries since they supply blueberries at around the same market window, making fierce competitors in especially the European markets.

In landlocked countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, there exists several challenges along logistics for blueberry export. In the case of Zambia, the limited air-freight options requires that blueberries cross an international border by truck before being shipped via sea freight. Zimbabwe, for instance, faces challenges as the market currently have fewer airfreight options than pre-covid times and were thus more heavily reliant on re-export through South African ports. This implied an even longer journey for growers and longer wait times at international borders. For this reason, the focus on on-farm efficient precooling and post-harvest treatment is a priority for Southern Africa producers, so they can face long transit periods, compete with quality in high-end markets and increase profits by optimizing logistics by sourcing sea-freight.

Post-harvest handling of blueberries across the world 

If grown well and distributed with keen attention to the cold chain, blueberries can arrive in markets in optimal condition. The efficiency in cold chain is essential for berries, as each hour a blueberry spends outside a pre-cooler, is a day of shelf life lost. For this reason, they should be cooled as soon as possible, always within 2 hours of harvest, if possible.

After harvest, blueberries remain alive respiring and producing heat. At a field heat of around 28°C, blueberries can still produce more heat from respiration, and unless this heat is removed by cooling, it can cause a temperature rise, driving softening and lowering produce value. On the other hand, cooling lowers the respiration rate, slows the ripening, and softening process alongside the resulting inevitable decline in quality.

Oftentimes, the effectiveness of cooling is the deciding factor in shelf life and quality.  In this case, it refers to the efficiency of the precooling, and the cooling technology’s ability to reach the core. However, only the blueberries on the outside will cool efficiently in each length of time, unless pallets are allowed to stand in a cooler for several hours before shipment. However, forced air pre-cooling would cool each berry uniformly and to the core. Previous exporters of blueberries cooled with forced air have reported reaching the desired storage temperature significantly faster and uniformly than those in still air. In conclusion, forced-air precooling is much more rapid than cooling in still air, proven to be 16 to 20 times faster.

To cater to this, InspiraFarms Cooling has designed blast chillers and forced air pre–coolers, to speed up consistent and effective cooling to reach every package on a pallet, crate, box or bin. In adopting such solutions, blueberry importers and exporters can leverage the increasing demand in different parts of the world, across burgeoning demand and lucrative markets.

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