Chile stresses quality to remain competitive in blueberry market
Chilean blueberry producers created the winter market for blueberries in the United States, but in recent years they have seen increasing competition from other countries, most notably Peru.
“We are certainly aware of the growing challenges in the U.S. market,” said Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association. “Peruvian volumes have grown exponentially over the past few years, and Mexico also has strong volumes. There is no longer any window of exclusivity for Chilean blueberries.”
While Chile is still the number one supplier of imported blueberries to the U.S. market, its lead is shrinking. Brux said that during the 2018-19 season, Chile had a 52 percent market share with Peru at 38 percent and continuing to gain steam.
This fact is of continuing concern to growers in Chile. Brux reported that the Chilean Blueberry Committee held its 2019 annual meeting in June, and specifically addressed the issue of how to remain relevant in the U.S. marketplace. The committee represents a significant portion of the Chilean blueberry industry with 80 percent of the country’s fresh blueberry exports coming from its members. During the meeting, the committee addressed the growing competition and determined that its needs to make changes if it is to maintain its leading position in the marketplace.
It determined that the key to success is providing the market with the highest-quality and best-tasting blueberries that are available. The committee adopted a strategic plan moving forward to assure that the best berries on the market come from Chile
The Committee determined that first and foremost Chilean growers should only export the top varieties. The committee identified 37 varieties that do not have strong enough post-harvest conditions to meet the requirements of Chile’s export markets. It was agreed upon that fruit from these varieties will only be sold to the domestic or processed markets.
Work at the field level was also singled out as a key part of the strategic plan. The group determined that field work should focus on creating better fruit, especially in terms of firmness. The committee also advocated for more research in the harvesting process and post-harvesting handling arenas to make sure only the best fruit makes it into the export market. The committee determined that post-harvest technologies should be utilized to assist in preserving the quality and condition of the fruit.
Finally, the committee updated its quality standards and put the stricter standards into effect for the 2019-20 season.
Brux noted that the committee agreed to work together with member companies to assure that all these new processes are put in place for this season so that Chile can stand by its pledge to supply great tasting, consistently high-quality blueberries to its global market.
For the 2019-20 season, Brux said the Chilean industry does see some unique marketing opportunities, especially as it relates to organic blueberries. Noting that U.S. organic fresh produce sales hit $5.6 billion in 2018, she said in terms of absolute dollars, blueberries saw the biggest increase with the organic blueberry category growing by $63.9 million. “Chile is the Southern Hemisphere’s premier supplier of organic blueberries and our organic production continues to grow,” she said.
From 2013-14 to 2018-19, sales of organic blueberries from Chile doubled its volume going from 6 percent of the total to 12 percent.
“We have a long history of working with retailers across the country to promote Chilean blueberries and we’re now extending that support to organic-specific promotions,” she said.
“We’re committed to expanding the entire blueberry category, so it’s key that we work with retailers to drive sales of both conventional and organic blueberries.”
In terms of retail and trade marketing support, she said this consists of ongoing market updates in the form of weekly crop reports, press releases and newsletters as well as direct marketing support to the trade. The association has three merchandisers across North America that are available to work with individual retailers to build promotions that are effective for their customer base.