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SEKOYA is a game changer in the blueberry industry

By
Keith Loria

berriesHans Liekens, value chain manager and retail expert for SEKOYA, calls the company “a game changer” in the blueberry industry because of its 360-degree approach.

“It all starts with a strong variety portfolio,” he said. “We have two varieties for warm climates (low-zero chill) grown in areas like the southern part of the U.S., Mexico, Peru or at low-elevation in Chile; and three varieties for cold climates produced in areas like the northern part of the U.S., Canada or at high-elevation in Chile.”

With this unique combination, SEKOYA can supply its consumers with consistent quality year-round because its premium mid-high chill varieties allow the company to bridge the quality gaps when zero-low chill production is at the end of its season or just starting a new one.

SEKOYA’s B2B platform counts 14 members who all have equal opportunities and rights to plant anywhere in the world.

“In only five years, our network has already established production of our SEKOYA varieties in more than 30 countries,” Liekens said, explaining that’s important because it allows for a lot of “plan Bs” to meet sourcing needs in case one region faces complications, such as weather.

“Given our structure, all SEKOYA members grow the same varieties, but they are also competitors who offer independent sales models and sourcing options to buyers,” Liekens said. “SEKOYA strongly advocates ‘direct sales’ between buyers and the member of their choosing. This combination creates a healthy market.”

"Last year, business was “challenging and interesting,” said Liekens. "Our SEKOYA varieties suffered less from El Niño vs. older genetics like Biloxi or Ventura. Maybe the biggest win was that the entire value chain partners now understand, you need a decent plan B, and so new growing areas were born.”

SEKOYA is ramping up very fast and 2024 is expected to be a big year.

“We doubled the global production volumes last year despite El Niño and will double the volumes again this year to 90,000 tons, which is three times the entire production of South Africa,” Liekens said.

One recent development that has changed the direction of the company is the uptick in snacking.berries

“As blueberries from our SEKOYA network are always big, crunchy, and flavorful, they open a whole new world — the world of healthy snacking,” Liekens said. “We know the snacking category is four times bigger vs. the breakfast category, so you can imagine where this leads.”

The rapid growth of SEKOYA is one of its biggest challenges currently.

“As we are globally active, we must expand our team quickly and efficiently to serve customers in all different time zones,” Liekens said. “It is also important to translate the consumer needs of different regions into our communication strategy. For example, health is the key driver for blueberry purchases globally, but ‘health’ in the U.S. means supporting heart health and helping to fight cancer or degenerative diseases while in Asia, skin care and vision are the key attributes focused on.”

The company believes the next step for growth is to interact directly with the consumers and show them the quality is consistently good. With that in mind, SEKOYA developed LIVIE, a co-brand that serves as quality assurance.

“Only berries of consistent quality that meet our highest standards in terms of flavor, firmness, size, appearance and shelf-life will bear the LIVIE logo, so consumers can be sure the fruit meets their expectations every time,” Liekens said.

The company philosophy is to build a world with better blueberries, and believe blueberries, as a superfood, have it all to fulfill consumer needs.

“It is crucial to understand the consumer — if the consumer doesn’t like the product, the retailer cannot sell, and growers are better off not planting,” Liekens said. “Our SEKOYA varieties match consumer preferences, so when you have such a valuable product, talking to our customers, the supermarkets, becomes fun. On top of that, SEKOYA brings more added value to the supermarkets, with an exceptionally long shelf life (around 45-60 days), we significantly help reduce in store waste to quasi zero and help reduce food waste also at consumer level.”

Keith Loria

Keith Loria

About Keith Loria  |  email

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is a D.C.-based award-winning journalist who has been writing for major publications for close to 20 years on topics as diverse as real estate, food and sports. He started his career with the Associated Press and has held high editorial positions at magazines aimed at healthcare, sports and technology. When not busy writing, he can be found enjoying time with his wife, Patricia, and two daughters, Jordan and Cassidy.

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