SOUTH AFRICA – Blueberry exporters in South Africa are optimistic about the fresh fruit market, despite a slow start to production this season.

The South African peak berry export season, which typically begins from September through to January, started on a low note this year.

The low yield is due to the ongoing cold and wet weather in the Western Cape, where more than 70 percent of South Africa’s blueberries are produced.

However, despite this slow start, the industry remains enthusiastic, with a target to export up to 25,000 tonnes this season.

Brent Walsh, the chief executive of Berries ZA, believes that although the season started slowly, there are now clear indications of a potential increase in volume.

Additionally, there will be a diversification of export channels, including both airfreight and sea exports.

“Airfreight volumes, however, are higher than usual at this time of the year due to a substantial shortage in the majority of markets,” he said.

He further spoke about the unpredictable nature of seasons but emphasized that although they were slightly behind, producers and exporters still stood by their season forecast.

The positive predictions, in Walsh’s view, stem from the healthy status of the South African blueberry orchards.

He confirmed that the volumes had not been affected, and the berries were sitting beautifully on the bushes, awaiting the final ripening before the peak harvest.

The current blueberry shortage in the South African export markets further gives a boost to the projection, offering favorable pricing for early-season exports.

“While we expect this to soften as we hit our peak weeks, we are confident that this year’s pricing will provide some relief to blueberry growers across South Africa following the significant impact of the Transnet strike in October 2022,” Walsh continued.

He further announced that the early airfreight volumes had mostly been directed towards the Middle Eastern markets.

His remarks also revealed that there will be an export shift to more traditional markets in the UK and European Union.

The high demand in the regions, as he explained, was as a result of lower shipments caused by the current off-season blueberry production.

Walsh further confirmed South Africa’s plans to expand its presence in the consumer markets of the East.

“We will certainly be pushing for market access into China as soon as possible, as the East Asian markets offer significant opportunities for South African blueberries,” he noted.

It is also crucial to note that the demand for South African blueberries was confirmed during Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong by various stakeholders in the East.

This presents an opportunity that Walsh and his exporting counterparts intend to capitalize on.

He went on to announce that the South African stonefruit would be included in the Chinese import markets, following the recent addition of South African avocados to the list.

Berries ZA also intends to assess the viability of accessing the market in South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

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