The summer of 2015 was a very exciting time for Canadian blueberry growers, trade agreements with South Korea and China were signed within days of each other, opening up a large Asian market to growers.
“We only had one week at the end of the season last year to ship because the season was early, so we were only able to ship very small amounts to China. The inspectors will come back this summer and look at the new fields and new packers because there were only 4 packers and several fields that were registered. They are coming to check that the protocol to mitigate disease and pests is in place in order to protect their own domestic production.” shared Debbie Etsell, Executive Director of BC Blueberries.
Canadian cherries had very few ports when they gained access to China, but blueberry producers were fortunate enough to gain access to 12 Chinese ports right away. Of course, the main ports such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou were included, but there is also a lot of interest coming from inland China and around the new ports which were set up as free trade zones. Debbie said that although there is a broader spectrum of places that they can send to, the reality is that a lot of the main buyers have their distribution centres in the 3 main ports (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) and it will take some time to grow from there.
BC blueberry producers have been increasing plantings since 2004, and with no quota system in Canada, they are in a good position to meet the future demands of the new markets.
"We have a lot of production, it is not that we are just growing to meet the world’s needs, we are a natural place to grow blueberries. We are also a solid partner. If you look at production stats, we have never gone down in production, we may have plateaued one year, but then we go back up. We are a trusted partner able to offer a consistent supply. We were 3 to 4 weeks early in some production areas last year because of weather changes, which makes it really difficult when you have programs set up in stores. However, this isn’t just a problem for us, it seems like a lot of the produce industry is dealing with the same issue right now too." said Etsell.
Along with fresh and frozen blueberries, dried and freeze dried blueberries have recently become available and is proving very popular in Asia.
“The demand for dried blueberries in China and S.Korea is off the charts. People didn’t realize how much demand there was going to be. The dried blueberries are eaten as a snack and are shelf stable, so you don’t have to worry about cold storage. It is easier for them to supply in the stores and is healthy and convenient, and an all around good choice. It is also very popular in India and the middle East for these same reasons, along with the fact that these areas are already quite familiar with dried fruit." shared Etsell.
Along with the surge in demand for dried blueberries, BC blueberries have also started offering freeze dried blueberries. The blueberries keep their shape, flavor and are 100% natural and can be used in cereals or snack packs or by themselves. The only requirement is that they need to be in sealed packaging because they are so dry that as soon as they are opened they will start absorbing the moisture from the outside air. The berry offers something for everyone because it is dairy free, gluten free and sugar free.
"Fresh remains premium and is what they want in both China and South Korea. However, South Koreans also know frozen so they are familiar with smoothies where China is not. As marketers, you can’t just go into a country and make them into a culture which makes smoothies. We can tell them how to make them, but you can’t force the culture to make them, so you need to figure out other ways to find out how they are going to incorporate the frozen blueberries and other forms into their diet and that is going to take time.” concludes Debbie.
Source: Fresh Plaza