Berry exporter and marketer S&A Produce has invested in a Unitec grading line in its Chilean blueberry packhouse to further boost exports to Asia.
The grading line, which uses technology originally developed for cherries, guarantees consistency of size – an important factor for the Asian market, according to S&A’s director of operations for Asia Pacific, Oliver Davies.
“The Asian consumer wants berries that are big, but they have to be consistent,” he said. “It’s slow but very thorough and you can set an exact size for the berry, using technology developed on cherries.”
From Chile, S&A Produce exports to China, Hong Kong and Singapore, and the company has just begun shipping from Peru, which is likely to shorten the early season premium airfreight market from Chile to China, Davies added.
Elsewhere, the UK’s business has previously exported British-grown strawberries to Hong Kong, Davies revealed. “The demand is there. British strawberries are quite soft so they are more challenging to ship. We’ve also done some asparagus exports to Hong Kong from the UK,” he added.
“We are expanding into more products, this year we did some containers of grapes from Peru and Chile, and we did some kiwis from Chile last year. Our strength in blues in Chile has led to good results for our growers so they’ve asked us to expand.”
S&A will continue to build its supply of grapes and kiwis into China using imports, rather than own production, Davies said, as the company looks to secure a 12-month supply.
“We also did some domestic blueberries in China for the first time this year and we are working towards a 12-month supply,” he said.
“On blueberry consumer trends, we’re seeing online purchasing on berries expanding really fast. It could easily be 20-25 per cent of our business. We’re also seeing an increase in raspberry demand and huge increases in supply.
“Blackberries are still a bit behind but they could have a bigger future than raspberries due to their colour and taste, Asian consumers tend to like darker coloured fruit.”
Davies said the Chinese market changes quickly with new market access being granted regularly, and said that if Australia becomes the latest entrant the competition will increase once again. S&A Produce is investing in domestic production with a trial farm near Yunnan, in southern China, looking at blueberries, and with potential to go into raspberries, he added.