The US blueberry market is currently being supplied by Mexico, with California getting ready to start their harvest at the end of April. While there have been a few ups and downs in the market so far this year, blueberry demand in the US remains strong. Berry People, a year-round, full-line shipper of branded organic and conventional strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, has promotable volumes available from their growing regions in Michoacán, Jalisco and Baja California.
Instability in first months of the year
Now that the market has switched over to the Mexican supplies, it has mostly stabilized, but, prior to this switch, the market witnessed some turbulence. Jerald Downs, President of Berry People, shares: “In January and February there was a very tight market. This was coupled with poor quality from Chile due to Covid-related delays in the destination ports and resulted in a temporary damper on consumer demand as well as discouraging promotional activity for March. March saw a bit of a market ‘collapse’ on the Chilean fruit, but Mexican fruit did hover above the rest, mainly due to product condition and broader demand and market opportunities for stronger condition fruit.”
At the end of March, high volumes entered the market. “There was a convergence of Mexican production ramping to its peak, with a concentration of Chilean arrivals, creating a severe market overcorrection toward the back half of the month,” Downs says. "Fortunately, the late season Chilean fruit challenges are now behind us, and we now have steady volumes of great quality conventional and organic blue-berries from our Mexican growers. Additionally, our growers in California report a fruit set that looks promising for harvest towards the end of April; we anticipate a steady transition from Mexican to Californian production over the next 60 days."
For the organic blueberries, the market has stayed a bit more stable. “Typical to organics in general, the size of the market is smaller and often slower to ‘react’ on the down or upside. We saw a narrowing of the pricing gap between organics and conventional from March 2020 to date, but demand patterns seem to be shifting again as things open up over 2021. It’s tough to say, but we may see demand for organics continue on its upward trend, with changes in distribution channels having a roundabout impact on its markets for both organic and conventional berries,” says Downs.
Mexican volumes are strong
The Mexican season is going well, and though the weather was cool at the start of the season which caused a little bit of a delay, the weather throughout April so far has been ideal. “The production is on the increase and our growers are committed to varieties that improve the consumer eating experience,” Down shares, adding: “There continue to be some challenges with the logistics, and packaging supplies and long lead-times due to Covid-related constraints has kept us on our toes. So, there are less options for ‘last minute’ pack-style changes, for example.”
Berry People’s unique approach to grower relationships has helped fuel their triple-digit growth over the past three years. "We bring a long-term perspective and a commitment to delicate bonds of trust to our grower relationships, and we strive to be true partners, with a holistic approach towards improving grower and Berry People operations from top to bottom," Downs continued. “Berries in general have been positively impacted, likely due to their benefits toward health and immunity in general. We expect the category to continue to make gains in the produce department because of the income per linear foot that it generates relative to other categories. Blueberries, specifically, have strong fundamentals in terms of health, convenience, and increasing affordability,” Downs concludes.
Berry People anticipates a robust spring and summer blueberry season in 2021, with a broader and more diversified base of growers and acreage from California and the Pacific Northwest, allowing them to handle the June through September transition with continuity, quality, and volume. Berry People branded blueberries are available in 12 x 6-ounce, 12 x 1-pint and 8 x 18-ounce pack sizes.