Despite a significant surge in input costs, particularly in labor, the pricing of berries has not kept pace, placing substantial pressure on profit margins in the global berry industry. Further complicated by climate challenges and extreme weather conditions, the industry is actively seeking a more resilient supply chain, as discussed at the recent Global Berry Congress. Hosted by Fruitnet, the event brought together over 200 industry professionals at the WTC in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Andriy Yarmak - FAO, Luliia Tymoshenko, Tiferet (Moldova), Ekaterine Vepkhvadze, Agritouch (Georgia), Oleksandr Pukshyn, Blue Berry (Ukraine)
After experiencing years of steady growth, the berry industry has encountered a different landscape this year. The decline in yield from Peru, a major player in blueberries, resulted in a 50% drop in exports, causing shortages worldwide. Addressing this, stabilizing the supply throughout the year emerged as a key focus during the congress. Cindy van Rijswick of Rabobank and Colin Fain of Agronometrics delved into the data, emphasizing the industry's broader challenge of reaching the right clientele with the right quality product. Michiel Vermeiren of Cooperatie Hoogstraten and Katelyn Jones of BayWa provided insights into finding market niches for their products, emphasizing the value of local production. Raffaele Benedetti of Unitec stressed the importance of delivering high-quality berries to the right customers, underscoring the necessity of insights into product quality.
As previously noted, the berry industry, particularly the blueberry sector, grapples with maintaining consistent quality and quantity—an aspect many industry stakeholders consider essential for category growth. Growers present at the event expressed the need to identify production areas that can ensure a year-round supply. However, following the decline in Peruvian production that affected several Latin American countries, the expansion's cost and escalating post-harvest expenses have outpaced the rise in blueberry prices, intensifying pressure on profit margins.
John Gray - Angus Soft Fruit and Rene Clerc - OneThird
The industry has witnessed rapid growth, notably in blueberries, with expanded production areas. The second session highlighted developments in these new markets. Andriy Yarmak of FAO spotlighted advancements in Morocco, a country of high interest for many attendees, and outlined why Egypt and Ukraine hold the potential to become major players as well.
Growers from Georgia (Ekaterine Vepkhvadze), Colombia (Miller Preciado), Ukraine (Oleksandr Pukshyn), and Moldova (Luliia Tyomshenko) provided insights into market developments, as did Hussain Hassan (Egypt) and Mouhssine Ismaili (Morocco). In a side program, Ambrish Karvat of Yupaa, India, and Hans Liekens of Sekoya Fruit discussed new markets in Asia.
Salih Hodzhov of WB Chambers added a personal touch to the industry's perspective, sharing his journey from a berry picker to COO of WB Chambers in the UK. Marion Regan of Hugh Low Farms, also from the UK, echoed similar sentiments in the final keynote interviews, discussing market balance and the impact of higher minimum wages on growers.
Improving the efficiency of the industry also involves enhancing the produce reaching the final customer, a topic Natasha Solano-Vesela of Hellman Worldwide Logistics addressed in her talk on shipping and airfreight performance.
Shannon Boase, CKF (Canada)
The role of technology was discussed by Theo Slaats of Yield Computer, Marco Snikkers of OneThird, and Mihai Ciobanu of Fresh4cast. Each employing their techniques based on data and AI, they aim to enhance supply chain resilience by preventing wastage and ensuring products reach retailers at the optimal moment. YieldComputer focuses on yield prediction and adjusting cultivation accordingly. OneThird focuses on techniques to better estimate the quality and shelf life of strawberries, improving market placement. Fresh4cast enhances communication between growing fields and the final customer, managing the fresh produce supply chain with their tools.
Throughout the day, it became evident that there was a high demand for improved genetics. Alessandro Gualandi of G-Berries and Alfonso Lopez of Planasa discussed this, noting that consumers seek excellent quality berries year-round. Different growing conditions and locations pose challenges, compounded by limited water availability, especially in hot weather. Breeders explored varieties that address these challenges and discussed the potential of creating licensed or club varieties. Opportunities in strawberries include early varieties and everbearers. Alessandro shared that he has launched 'Easy' raspberry varieties, easy to pick, reducing harvesting costs.
Robbrecht den Engelse from Buro Loods
To conclude the day, Robbrecht den Engelse of Buro Loods offered insights into concepts in food retail. The importance of collaborating with retailers was emphasized by Shannon Boase of CKF Canada, who is working with Costco Canada on sustainable packing solutions. Lastly, David Meszaros discussed the Smartkas vertical farming concept and the costs and potentials of their new growing concepts.
Stay tuned for more insights on the berry market - but first, it's picture time!