The Chilean blueberry industry is facing significant challenges, experiencing an 18% decline in production volumes over the past few years, with a further projected drop of 13% for the upcoming season. The primary obstacles include intensifying competition and heightened quality standards within the sector.
Julia Pinto, the technical manager of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, conducted a comprehensive analysis, revealing a substantial increase in global blueberry acreage, reaching approximately 617,000 acres compared to 185,000 a dozen years ago. This expansion has brought about a transformative shift in the global blueberry industry.
The current focus of the Committee is to enhance the quality of Chilean blueberries in response to the emergence of high-quality varieties from competitor countries like Mexico and Peru. Pinto stresses the need to address production challenges, emphasizing the Committee’s goal to improve the quality of Chilean fruit, as other nations are producing new varieties with larger sizes.
The global blueberry industry is strategizing for success by seeking greater efficiency and productivity through varietal replacement and expansion in lower-cost regions. Pinto underscores the significance of varietal replacement, highlighting that new genetics are driving improvements in firmness, flavor, caliber, and shelf life.
Pinto emphasizes the critical role of quality in driving demand growth, noting that varieties resistant to extreme weather events are essential. The United States is identified as the primary consumer, and Chile is challenged to meet consumer demands for higher quality blueberries, competing with countries that have made advancements in this regard.
The U.S. market, which was once dominated by Chile with a 65% market share in 2015-16, has seen a significant decline to 16%. Peru, Chile’s main competitor, has risen from a 9% market share to 51%. Mexico has also impacted Chile’s late production, particularly in the U.S. market, while Morocco’s products affect Chile in Europe.
Pinto reveals that over 50% of Chilean blueberry exports traditionally go to the United States, but the market share has decreased. Legacy and Duke are the main varieties exported by Chile, representing traditional options that continue to perform well. New varieties constitute 16% of Chile’s production, totaling 14 million kilos out of the 87 million produced.
Chile’s blueberry export season spans from November to March, presenting both challenges and opportunities for the industry.