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Challenging but rosy future for soft fruit

Sixth Global Berry Congress
Challenging but rosy future for soft fruit

On 7 April, in Amsterdam, the sixth edition of the international Global Berry Congress took place. Several speakers gave their views on the future of the soft fruit sector in five sessions with different themes. From innovations to sustainability issues and effective marketing to the question of how to meet the demand for the fruit were discussed.

Robert Verloop, Naturipe :

Robert Verloop of Naturipe, kicked off with a vision for the future of the softfruit sector and the challenges in the sector. Firstly softfruit should follow the example of Coca Cola with the motto: “to be within arm’s reach of desire.” Consumers should have no trouble obtaining softfruit. Another major challenge is developing new packaging which is better for the environment, but can also extend the shelflife. In addition and most importantly, consumers want tasty fruits.

During the second session Gerard van Loon (The Greenery), Theo Houwen (Driscoll’s of Europe) Charlotte Murphy (BerryWorld) and Steve Nelson (Plant Sciences) were the speakers.

Local for local trend continues
The consumption of softfruit is still growing. Especially blueberries are gaining ground, even in Europe. How to fulfil this growing European demand was the subject of the second session. Gerard van Loon, from The Greenery, spoke about the growing importance of local for local. An example of this are members of The Greenery who grow softfruit in, for example, France, Germany, Belgium and Portugal to meet with a local demand for local product instead of exporting the product to these markets. In addition, growers are relying more on sustainability, a topic that is also becoming more important among consumers.

Networking in between the sessions. Around 350 visitors from 28 countries.

Transparency and quality
Consumers are wanting more transparency and brand identity, says Theo Houwen from Driscoll’s Europe. Consumers want to know the company behind the fruit. Quality is becoming increasingly important because the consumer associates the name of the company with the quality of the fruit. The average softfruit consumer tends to spend more on groceries than other consumers. According to Houwen, fruit quality is paramount. Bad quality softfruit would prevent customers from buying the next time.

Blueberry consumption growing
Blueberry consumption is on the rise. Consumption has seen considerable growth in the last ten years. Charlotte Murphy, from Berry World, had a look into the British softfruit market. Blueberry consumption is rising, in part, because berries are being offered as a snack and in children’s lunch boxes for school. Work still needs to be done in regards to the British consumer associating berries with the seasons. Blueberries sell well throughout the year, however, strawberries have their peak in the summer months. This is because the average Brit thinks that British strawberries are only available during that time period, when they are actually available year round.

Valuable research new varieties
Steve Nelson, from Plant Sciences, described the situation on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. American growers are concentrated in California, which presents different challenges. Some of these challenges are the local for local trend, concern about the fresh water supply and finding enough workers. He also pointed out that the development of new varieties is an expensive venture. The average cost of a research program is usually around a half a million dollars per year and lasts approximately 10 years before a new variety can be grown commercially.

There was an opportunity to network, discuss the various themes and let the new information settle between sessions. The conference was well attended with around 350 visitors from 28 countries. The location for the congress next year is not yet known, but the organisation hinted that they are considering the same location in Amsterdam.

Publication date: 4/9/2014

Chilean Fresh Fruit Association pushes through challenging season

Karen Brux, managing director North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association in San Carlos, CA, said that she feels it is fair to say that this has been a very challenging season for everyone involved in Chilean fruit, from growers and exporters to importers, wholesalers and retailers.  

“In September of 2013, Chile was hit by its worst frost in over 80 years,” said Brux. “While avocados were greatly spared from its effects, most other fruits were damaged. Some commodities suffered losses of over 50 percent.Blackamber-plantaBlack Amber plums from Chile. (Photo courtesy of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association)

“Blueberries were still a bright spot with the Chilean Blueberry Committee projecting an increase in exports to the U.S.,” she continued. “However, in late December, the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced that Chilean blueberry exports would need to be fumigated due to detections of European Grapevine Moth in a few key blueberry growing regions.”

Brux said that exports of blueberries to the United States have, consequently, fallen by 32 percent year-to-date compared to last season.

Also hindering the Chilean fresh produce export movement this season was the Port of San Antonio’s three-week strike in January, which is a key shipping period for Chile.

“While other ports were still functioning during the strike, the temporary shutdown of San Antonio definitely posed some logistical challenges to exporters and importers and raised a number of questions from retailers who were getting ready to launch Chilean fruit promotions,” Brux added.

The CFFA has made necessary adjustments to its promotion program for the shortages this season, and it has still been able to support numerous retailers throughout the United States.

“Volume and pricing have been challenging, but with Chilean fruit playing such a dominant role in every retailer’s produce department they are eager to promote what they can and when they can,” said Brux. “With our regional merchandisers and customized marketing programs, we continue to work with retailers to design appropriate promotions.”

January’s port strike and the new fumigation requirements for Chilean blueberries basically disrupted the flow of Chilean fruit to the North American market. Brux said that things got back on track in late January, but due to last year’s frost there was certainly less fruit being shipped to North America.

Chilean growers’ challenge related to the new fumigation requirements on blueberries produced in the country, which are due to the European Grapevine Moth.  

Brux reiterated that fumigation was originally required prior to departure from Chile, but after further discussions and negotiations, the USDA started to allow fumigation to take place upon arrival to U.S. ports.

“This protocol started in early January,” said Brux. “The U.S. is Chile’s largest export market for blueberries, and we expect it will continue to hold this position in the coming years. Nevertheless, at least for now, fumigation is part of the new reality for anyone selling Chilean blueberries in the U.S. market.”

The season for Chilean fruit really never ends, Brux explained. The blueberry season was in its final stages in late March, and grape and stone fruit promotions are due to wrap up in April.

“But we’re here to promote all Chilean fruit, so if there are opportunities for apples, pears, kiwifruit or other items, we will certainly pursue what makes sense for the industry,” she said. “Also, the Chilean Citrus Committee will be supporting a North American marketing program, so we’re starting to put those plans in place. Citrus marketing programs will run from summer into fall. Once fall arrives planning for the next season of blueberries, cherries and all of Chile’s summer fruits will begin again.”

Some companies are riding the Chilean import strongly, and adding to it as products become available. On March 24, Oppy announced that its Chilean plum season will finish with a flourish when the exciting new fruit known as RR1 arrives in April. The RR1 is a late-harvesting, long-storing plum with yellow flesh that transforms to light red as it ripens. First planted in Chile in 2010, RR1 follows the popular Angelino variety in availability and can sustain the plum season well into May.

In its press release, Evan Myers, Oppy’s director of imports and stone fruit said, “We believe RR1 has excellent potential. Red plum supplies are ramping down. It’s exciting that our growers are producing such a great-tasting piece of fruit at a point in the season when demand is strong.”

RR1 is harvested at 17 to 19 Brix, delivering a sweet flavor balanced with just a hint of tang.

Oppy is a major importer of fresh Chilean produce, and North America’s largest-volume Chilean plum marketer. Myers noted that the company was looking forward to introducing RR1.

“Early indications suggest that our retail partners are anticipating this plum with as much enthusiasm as we are,” said Myers. “As volumes grow, RR1 can extend the plum season considerably longer, making the gap between import and domestic plum availability appreciably smaller.”

Oppy expects very modest volumes this season, but Myers forecasts exponential growth, which will be helped by the new and more inviting name for 2015; RR1.

Brux also serves as the marketing director for the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, commonly referred to by its acronym, CAIA. She said that Chilean avocados have had a wonderful season.

“We were originally anticipating a 30-35 percent volume increase over the 2012-13 season, but volume has more than doubled,” she said.

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EU entry for US apples challenging after European regulation change

Scott Lynch, executive director of the United States Apple Export Council:
EU entry for US apples challenging after European regulation change

Scott Lynch, executive director of the United States Apple Export Council, (USAEC) explains the ups and downs of exporting to the EU after the change in European regulations to lower residue limits of DPA to 0.1 ppm on apples comes into force next month. 

“This season has been spent re-establishing relationships and preparing for the new MRL requirements,” Lynch told Freshplaza. “Europe is an important market for the USAEC and we are investing as an industry to ensure shipments will continue.”

“Our crop was impacted by weather the previous two years, leading to minimal exports to Europe, including our largest market, the UK. This year, the crop is very strong and we have good quality and sizes for the European market. However, the experience of the past two years meant that, to a certain extent, we had to re-introduce ourselves to the market this year and re-establish relationships. A lot of what we do for the apple export council is, to coin a phrase, ‘beat the drum’. We are constantly reminding people that we provide an opportunity for them. We have some varieties that are always appealing to the European market, particularly the UK,” he said.

Even though last year was very difficult, USAEC continued to communicate fully with its partners. “Even with the lack of fruit, we still talked to our key partners informing them of the crop shortage and making sure they know that we will be back next year,” said Lynch. “All of our partners, colleagues, shippers, importers or retailers are equally important. We have to work together. The retailers and their customers want our apples on the shelves.”

He explained that this is a tough industry, which can’t always be controlled by the people who are working in it. “In a way, we share the pain but we also share the good times. It is good to have strong relationships, where people understand the situation. We are here to help.  “However, in a year when we have a great crop, obstacles like the DPA issue are impacting our ability to ship into Europe. Initially, the change in regulations was frustrating for our industry and implementation got pushed back a number of times.  Now it is a reality that we have to accept it and decide how we are going to comply.

“Many of our companies have been investing in order to ship DPA free apples. The thinking was: I need to continue to supply these markets and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen, so we built new facilities and modified others. We had until March 2, to get in before the new regulations were put into force, so a number of people have been shipping prior to that. Now we have to work within the parameters; we might not agree with them, but we have to work within them. Our partners worked really hard and invested a lot of time to make sure that there are still products available for this market.”

Lynch explained how growers are adjusting the changes. “There are two different ways to approach it, one is to build an entire new facility with entirely new equipment and some companies have several rooms, which they designate for the new regulations of DPA. All the shippers that are using the DPA free facilities are measuring their levels, before the apples go out, so they have been testing and doing monitoring at their end to make sure everything is all right. Shippers want to ensure the shipments are DPA free before they leave the facilities.”

USAEC is working very hard to make sure that the apples can make it into Europe. “Collaboration is very important with receivers, shippers and growers. People really want to work with the EU. It is a mature and important market where our fruit is in demand. Particularly with some of our varieties, which are very well received in the UK.”

It has been a learning process for everyone who has been involved. “No one had been there before,” said Lynch, quoting one of the USAEC’s bigger shippers, “There is no such thing as a normal year. In reality you have to invest constantly in your business. There could be any kind of challenges to face along the way. Last year had a financial impact on the business as well. So in terms of getting that money back it’s long term. We don’t know what is going to happen next year. If you are in this business, you have to prepare to continually invest, in time and money, we still have a long way to go.”

For more information:
Scott Lynch
Tel: +1 202-367-1154
Fax: +1 202-367-2154
Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2/24/2014