IBO Report Shows a Blueberry Industry Undergoing Transformation

The extensive data reveals some interesting trends and forecasts a continued expansion.

By Colin Fain, Team Lead and Co-Author of the IBO Report

Blueberries have been an exciting category in recent decades. From their modest beginnings in the first commercial plantings of domesticated Highbush New Jersey a little more than 100 years ago, the specialty crop ‘superfood’ has grown into a global sensation producing more than 1.8 million metric tons worldwide in 2021. This year’s Global State of the Blueberry Industry Report from the International Blueberry Organization (IBO) corresponds with a time of great transformation in the category as sustained growth in global volumes and consumption drive professionalization, industry maturation and a new competitive environment in quality and unit economics in service of blueberry consumers around the world. The report sources data from official industry organizations, private sources, and public data resources together with aggregated intelligence from interviews with industry participants around the world.

The data collected for this year’s report puts China at the top of the list as the world’s leading producer, with virtually all volumes consumed domestically. Following China are the United States, Peru, Chile and Mexico respectively, with Peru supplanting Chile in the third position and Mexico replacing Canada in fifth.

A new metric tracked throughout the study identifies an estimated 40% of global production growth has come from increases in yield as opposed to new hectares entering production. This new and important trend is correlated with improved farming practices, varietal renewals, and the rise of these tools in competitive growing environments. All indications are that competitive producers, service providers, breeders and handlers are sharpening their pencils and further professionalizing the industry.

Quality is also top of mind through the report. An example illustrating this trend is reflected in the varietal renewals in Peru through the summary provided by the Peruvian growers association, ProArandanos. Their report offers an in-depth breakout showing how the largest exporter in the world is not only growing but already investing into replacing older varieties with better performing ones, both in the field and in the consuming markets. In other parts of the world, recent commercial experiments have demonstrated that consumers are willing to pay a premium for fruit differentiated by quality, over undifferentiated fruit, offering insights that may have profound consequences for the industry.

On the back of more than 86 interviews and a treasure trove of data, this year’s report offers 200 pages of data, analysis and industry insights from around the world. It offers in-depth breakouts with charts, tables and analysis for producing regions as well as the most important producing and consuming countries. There is no single narrative in the blueberry story, with some producing regions continuing to realize sustained success in growth and demand and others struggling in a competitive and maturing industry.

This report builds on the long lineage of IBO State of the Global Blueberry Industry Reports which began back in 2007. The archives of previous reports – together with the most recent one – track the blueberry boom, which is rooted in the health halo surrounding the fruit that began with USDA-supported research in the 1990s. Publication and awareness of these research efforts garnered attention to the crop with growth picking up in the early 2000s and demand accelerating through the 2010s. A full synopsis of the state of ongoing health research is included in the report and delivered by the head of the US Highbush Blueberry Council’s Research Committee chair.

In the last two decades the industry has experienced new supply side and market dynamics, as low – and later, zero – chill varieties entered the market, allowing for new producing regions to fill in the shoulders between the traditional seasons of the northern hemisphere (June-September) and the counter seasonal supply from the southern hemisphere (November-February). With these new origins coming online, consumers have benefited from year round supply allowing them to develop stable blueberry eating habits and maintain the commodity in their shopping carts year round. For many observers, this has been the main cause of the second great period of growth for the industry in the last decade.

All this set the groundwork for blueberries to become a darling of the pandemic as consumers looked for healthy foods to keep them in shape and as far away from a hospital as possible. These are effects from which the category is still seeing benefits.

This is not to say that it has been all smooth sailing. As the pandemic let up, the industry has been faced with many new issues, the likes of which we haven’t observed before. Increases in the costs of farm inputs and supply chain disruptions are tightening margins and hitting revenues, access to labor is also straining production, and the logistic issues that have challenged international shippers as a result of demand imbalances have heavily affected blueberry producers as never before.

Looking forward, our updated forecast projects the industry to continue its expansion. We built our global model from the individual projections of the 117 producing regions the report covers. With the help of a machine learning algorithm, the methodology individualizes the projections to the specific circumstances of each region. These forecasts are brought into context applying qualitative knowledge of trends and other limiting and/or accelerating factors not captured by Artificial Intelligence based computational processes.

Blueberries are a truly special crop, bringing a healthy choice to consumers around the globe while presenting an incredible development opportunity to improve the lives of people and their local economies. Those of us who work in service of this wonderful fruit, our many blueberry colleagues around the world, and those who enjoy it are truly blessed.

• To find out more about the geographies most important to your business, download the IBO’s 2022 Global State of the Blueberry Industry Report for free at www.internationalblueberry.org/2022-report.

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