Opportunities Abound for the Blueberry Sector

Dive into the industry’s evolution and what’s next, as illuminated by the 2023 IBO Global State of the Blueberry Industry Report.

by Colin Fain

In recent years, blueberries have frequently made headlines. Their journey began more than a century ago with the commercial plantings of the highbush in New Jersey. Since then, they’ve evolved from a specialty crop to a global sensation. This ascent has introduced market dynamics that are reshaping the industry.

From 2018 to 2022, global blueberry volumes surged 77%, reaching an estimated 2,030,000 metric tons, including both wild and cultivated fruit. This impressive level of growth has brought the category into a period that is characterized by heightened competition and maturation, which leads to more stable pricing patterns. This includes price declines during specific periods of the year, largely influenced by expanding production regions in South America, particularly in Peru, as well as in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. As markets mature, the initial premium prices, especially in the spring and fall, are evening out, leading to greater consistency in pricing. In the Americas, pricing levels remained steady, largely due to Canada importing fruit from the United States and Mexico.

Another significant trend is the negative impact extreme weather has had on the industry. This is evidenced by the first decrease in yields since 2016, when the industry was 36% of its 2022 size. The U.S. saw the most substantial reduction, with every region producing less than the previous year. The Southern states experienced the most significant volume drop, while the Pacific Northwest was also deeply impacted. Other affected origins include Canada, Chile, Mexico and Spain, all of which produced less compared to the previous season.

The challenges didn’t stop at increased volumes and pricing pressures. Rising production costs have put margins under significant strain. 2022 saw substantial increases in overall input costs, including labor costs rising between 20-30%. Non-harvest costs also soared, increasing by an astonishing 50-100%. Despite these challenges, there are early signs of costs beginning to stabilize, offering producers some relief.

We are beginning to see a wider push to promote blueberries in domestic markets, with Poland standing out as an example. There’s also an increasing emphasis on field efficiency and productivity, leading to a swift transition to newer, high-performance blueberry varieties. This move supports a larger industry trend: the continuous quest for quality. Updated varietal choices, such as those promoted by the Peruvian growers’ association, ProArandanos, underscore the industry’s dedication. Its focus isn’t just on raising volumes but also on phasing out older varieties in favor of those that offer superior cultivation and market reception. Globally, discerning consumers have shown a willingness to pay more for quality fruit, setting the stage for industry shifts.

Recent advancements highlight blueberries’ health benefits. Studies show they can reduce cognitive decline in older adults, improve cardiovascular health and assist those with gastrointestinal disorders. Blueberries are also linked to a 5% lower risk of mortality. Research in 2023 will further explore their effects on child learning, muscle protein synthesis and potential benefits for hearing disorders. They remain vital in nutritional research, emphasizing their broad health benefits.

Emerging trends like the adoption of machine harvesting continue to influence the industry, though opinions on its effectiveness vary. The report also delves into the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in blueberry production and distribution.

Our forecasts predict the blueberry industry will keep growing. With insights from projections across 117 production regions and the use of machine learning algorithms, this approach captures the unique situations of each area. Through this method, we anticipate the industry will grow to 2,800,000 metric tons by 2026.

Blueberries, known for their health benefits, are more than just a tasty snack; they contribute significantly to global well-being. As the industry progresses, it offers opportunities for producers, suppliers and consumers.

Download the full report for free from the International Blueberry Organization’s (IBO) website. At 227 pages, it provides the insights needed to understand crucial geographies and the nuances driving the blueberry industry.

  • Colin Fain is a co-author of the 2023 IBO Global State of the Blueberry Industry Report.