2 Sep 2020
Harvesting has started across the country on South Africa’s largest blueberry crop yet, an estimated 24,000 tonnes of production, of which 17,000 tonnes will probably be exported.
Exports came to 12,282 tonnes last year, to give an idea of the tremendous growth within the blueberry industry, a real disruptor among the more established sectors of the South African fruit industry, says Justin Mudge, chairperson of Berries ZA.
”The industry is over 530 tonnes into the new season already. Here in the Western Cape it was a slower start than last year,” he says. “With Covid there is now probably less certainty in terms of growth projections. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still very bullish, but these are just projections which might need to be revisited after this season.“
There could be plantings planned for 2020/21 that might be delayed by Covid. The last raspberries of the 2019/20 season were disrupted during the initial weeks when planes stopped flying,
“The berry industry has been very resourceful and organised and pro-active about managing our exports so that we can deliver on the expectations of our customers in the Northern Hemisphere.”
Communicating different needs of blueberry industry
A Joint Marketing Forum has been set up to create a cooperative communication platform between stakeholders, including the establishment of a working group for the logistics sector, in order to communicate the unique needs of the blueberry industry.
“Blueberries don’t have the same kind of shelf life as citrus or apples, probably not even as good as table grapes. The urgency and the reactiveness we need from the port authorities is possibly different from other fruit. If you miss a sailing and you lose seven days of shelf life on a berry, it is critical,” he explains. “Every sailing is important for every product, obviously. It’s just about making them aware that berries are particularly sensitive.”
He refers to port delays during a significant week last year when berry exports were delayed, which meant that the following week markets received double the quantity.
“Consistency in the marketplace is always key. Disruptions erode confidence in South Africa’s ability to deliver quality product, on time.”
Big swing to sea freight this season
“Going forward there’s a lot of uncertainty around air freight and how we’ll fly the crop out, but at the same time the new genetics means that a lot more fruit is sea freightable, so there’s a real shift from air freight to sea freight this season. It’s part of the evolution of better berries, delivering them to the market in a more cost-effective manner.”
There would have been a major transition from air to sea freight this season, even if air freight rates hadn’t tremendously risen.
The difference between an air voyage that gets the berries on a Northern Hemisphere supermarket shelf within, at most, four days and a sea voyage of 21 days is vast, necessitating some big changes to blueberry packing this season.
“You want to make sure you’re packing for success.”