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Growing consumer demand supports increasing berry imports

The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, based in Folsom, CA, reports that consumers who crave the taste of fresh blueberries in winter are in luck. Nowadays, fresh blueberries are in the market almost every day of the year.

Native to North America, blueberries flourish here from April through October. Thanks to industrious farmers in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasonal swap brings blueberries from South America from November through March.imported-blueberries

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, a national information resource for value-added agriculture, offers recent updates on the blueberry market. A July 2015 report on blueberries, written by Malinda Geisler, and updated by Gina Marzolo, noted that the U.S. is the world’s largest producer of blueberries. In 2014, 667.6 million pounds were produced and utilized.

But the U.S. is also a net importer of fresh and frozen blueberries. Canada supplies almost 20 percent of fresh product into the nation, but South America has a very strong U.S. import program.

In 2014, the U.S. imported 234.7 million pounds of fresh blueberries valued at nearly $530.5 million. Over 60 percent of this product originated in Chile, which supplies the U.S. market during the winter months of mid-November through January.

In 2014, average market prices for cultivated fresh blueberries were $1.93 per pound.

Blackberries are also taking a strong hold in the U.S. market, and along with other cane-grown berries, imports are important to keeping the market supplied.

In 2014, U.S. blackberry production was valued at $50.1 million, up from the previous two years. Of that, $4.91 million came from fresh market sales.

Also updated by Gina Marzolo in July 2015, the AgMRC report on blackberries stated that in 2014 the U.S. imported 124.7 million pounds of fresh blackberries, with an import value of almost $207 million.

Mexico provided nearly all U.S. imported fresh blackberry volumes, representing a four-year annual average market share of 96 percent from 2011 to 2014.

In her updated report for AgMRC in October 2015, Gina Marzolo stated that over the last two decades, the U.S. strawberry industry has experienced an upward trend in per person consumption. This is due to multiple reasons: Consumers have more awareness of the importance of eating healthier; yield improvements have created an expanded domestic supply and imports allow for year-round availability.

While the U.S. is the world’s largest strawberry producer, it is also a strong importer. In 2014, the nation imported 355.9 million pounds of fresh strawberries, valued at $374.7 million.

The majority of all U.S. strawberry imports come from Mexico, with Canada supplying less than one percent. According to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Mexican strawberries have overlapping production seasons with Florida, which has some produce professionals concerned about market competition. However, USDA’s Economic Research Service states that production of fresh-market strawberries in Florida shows no signs of decline over the years, and it assures that imports of fresh strawberries from Mexico are only a supplement to our domestic supply in order to meet U.S. consumer demand. Most Mexican strawberries being produced and imported to the U.S. are shipped in the winter.

In 2013, annual per person consumption of strawberries in the U.S. reached a new record of 7.9 pounds.

To meet the growing consumer demand, the U.S. also imports raspberries. From October through May, most imports originate from Mexico, which ships about 96 percent of total imports.

In 2014, the U.S. imported a total of almost 96.8 million pounds of fresh raspberries from Mexico, Canada and Chile, with a total value of $1 million.