China short on blueberries for key national festival
April 25, 2013

A Chinese fruit company is pushing for new overseas suppliers to fill key fruit selling windows, including the Moon Festival period between September and October.

Joyvio managing director Chen Shaopeng highlighted Oregon, British Columbia, Peru and Mexico as potential suppliers to fill an empty window from early August to the when the first Chilean volumes arrive in late November.

“The Moon Festival is a very important season – people give gifts to all the customers and friends and relatives, but we don’t have supply then,” Chen told participants at the International Blueberry (IBO) Summit in Santiago de Chile.

“We can maybe extend to August and the beginning of September by all kinds of improvements like different varieties or different areas, but it’s very hard to extend further to the main September, October or November.

“I think this is a huge opportunity for the industry globally. Let’s talk about it and find a solution. The last one [event] is Christmas – for Chilean production it’s very hard for us to get fruit around Christmas. We can only ship by air with very limited availability.”

Chen also mentioned a supply gap after Chilean supply drops off in mid-March and when the Chinese season begins in mid-April.

Joyvio, which owns China’s biggest blueberry company Wallen Blueberry Fruits, announced a joint venture with Chilean exporter Subsole last week; a strategy it aims to replicate in the South American country and elsewhere.

Chen said domestic demand for 12,000 metric tons (MT) of blueberries last year, with two thirds going to processed and the rest sold as fresh. As big players educate consumers about the health benefits of the fruit and availability rises, Chen forecasts demand for 60,000MT of blueberries in 2016 with a 50-50 split between processed and fresh.

He added that half of that 60,000MT would likely come from abroad, expressing expectations that countries like the U.S., Mexico and others would gain access.

Chen cited a study from Zhiheng Marketing in March 2012 that showed nutrition, health benefits and exotic fruit were the top drivers of blueberry consumption. While the market has been strong, Zhiheng found the price of CNY15 (US$2.40) per 125g (4.4oz) box was still a barrier.

Domestic production

Chen said China had around 10,000ha in production in 2012, of which 1,000ha belonged to Wallen. While 90% of the industry is in corporate hands – a fact that is very unusual in Chinese farming – many growers have limited know-how.

“When you look at the production it’s just around 5,000 (metric) tons. Why? A lot of areas are still very young plantations, and secondly the yield is miserable, it’s very poor.

“The plantation is of a big size with very limited knowledge. Why was it planted? There were some very unsuitable plantations based on our knowledge; more than 100 varieties without adaptability test, so people don’t know what type of variety they have planted.

“The industry is booming because it attracted hot money from the real estate industry. A lot of businessmen earned huge money from real estate, and they saw that blueberries were healthy and they could make big money investing in it, but now they are in trouble.”

He said the industry was focused on reach 40,000MT in volume for 2016.

The province of Shandong accounts for the largest amount of planted blueberry area at 2070ha, followed by Liaoning (1952ha), Jilin (1774) and Guizhou (1331ha).