Europe is no longer enough for berries


Since the large scale grubbing out of the crop in the 1970s, Huelva strawberries, followed by raspberries and bilberries, have mainly been marketed in Europe.

But today Europe is no longer enough because the economic and the world situation have undergone a significant transformation. Globalisation, new storage technologies, speed in transport and the emerging greenhouse production using LEDs in Northern Europe have alerted the Huelva strawberry sector regarding their trade relations, aimed at diversifying and reaching destinations outside the European Union.

In spite of this, today the most of the production stays on the Old Continent, although the employers in the sector are extremely very clear that extending trade horizons means ‘thinking about the future’.

One of the arguments used by Rafael Domínguez, Manager of Freshuelva, is “that we must get ahead of future market projections, because although Huelva is not increasing its crop hectares and it is maintaining a differential stability of 1 or 2%, we are seeing a growth in greenhouses with LED technology, both in Holland and in Germany, that are going to mean availability of their own produce during the same period as Huelva strawberries, in line with the current purchasing trends that involve buying local.”

The volumes exported in the 2019-2020 campaign confirm this data, as out of the 400.000 tonnes that left the country, only around 60.000 reached countries outside the European Union. In 2019, the explosion of the pandemic caused important alterations in shipping traffic all over the world, ports coming to a standstill, increases in freight charges and absence of air traffic. And therefore, Spanish berries and also, the rest of fruit and vegetables, suffered from this situation.

Germany: 80 million mouths

Germany, with a potential of 83 million inhabitants, is the main buyer of Spanish berries, with average purchases that exceed 250,000 tonnes, and that even exceeded 300,000 tonnes in 2016 and 2017.

The United Kingdom: the King of raspberries

Once the uncertain situation due to the UK’s departure from the European Union was finally clarified in terms of the customs duties to be paid (non-existent), it is expected that the trading relations with this country continue with the same fluidity. It is the main recipient for raspberries, with 34% of the exported total, and it is second for bilberries, with a market share of 26%. At present, there are administrative points to be resolved as to what will happen from the 1st of April with the new plant protection regulation marked out by the British government.

French protectionism

French production has reached 57,200 tonnes, a poor figure considering the average consumption by the French (2.6 kilos per capita); therefore, they need to purchase Spanish produce. Having said this, France is the European country that gives most priority to its own production and varieties above any others. Therefore, we should emphasise that the popular `Garriguete´ is over 10 euros on the supermarket shelves compared to Huelva strawberries that do not reach 3 euros. This awareness for giving priority to local production, at present and even after Covid, is virtually unthinkable in the Spanish context.

It is worth mentioning that, historically, this matter has involved divergences and tension between farmers from both countries. The most recent rivalry is rooted in the comments on social media made by the French Manager of Carrefour, who indicated that Spanish strawberries were lacking in taste and he recommended eating French apples and kiwis until the home-grown strawberries arrived.

French production has remained stable over the past five years and has reached 3,000 hectares.

French operators expect the current campaign not to start as early as in 2020, and the volumes will start to become important from April, reaching the production peak around week 20, in May.

The Italian-Spanish feeling

Although Italy is a producer country, it is also an important internal consumer, therefore “in addition to eating their own strawberries, they are always ready to fall back on Spanish produce with direct imports or through the Perpignan market, where Huelva strawberries are marketed.”

The latest data for 2021 also indicates that their productive surface area is maintaining a rising trend, valued at 9% and including 3,962 hectares, encouraged, amongst other factors, by its constant domestic consumption. Italy devotes a large part of its production to trade within its own borders, therefore its export volume is not very high and in 2020 it meant around 10,600 tonnes. “

The Spanish market

We have come a long way since the years when Huelva strawberries were better known outside our borders than on the national market, where the famous strawberries were local productions from Aranjuez or Valencia. Over two decades have passed since they started becoming consolidated on Spanish supermarket shelves, thanks to the joint effort of producers, marketers and the large retailers. The same vicissitudes have occurred to bilberries, raspberries and blackberries, products that less than 10 years ago were difficult to find in any Spanish supermarket.

Canada is eating Spanish strawberries and Brazil, bilberries

In less than six months, the Huelva berries’ activity, streamlining the opening of new markets, has been satisfactorily compensated: trade agreements have been signed with Canada to export strawberries and with Brazil for bilberries.

The wait for the opening of the Canadian market is over and it is now a reality. In this way, a destination with almost 40 million inhabitants with high spending power has been opened up for Huelva strawberries. “The important point now is to face up to the challenge of designing one or several trade routes that promote the arrival of the fruit at the destination in the best possible conditions of quality and flavour,” sources at Freshuelva explain.

The Canadian protocol strictly follows a plant protection certificate that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will process and which establishes that 100% of the Spanish deliveries will be subjected to physical inspections during a trial period, which will be subsequently stipulated and will depend on the compliance rate.

The negotiations with Canada are framed in the free trade agreement (CETA) signed in 2017 by the EU and Canada, and which will be used in the future to also cover the negotiations for marketing bilberries.

In November, Brazilian officials on the subject inspected several bilberry plantations belonging to Euroberry and the Medina Group, and they corroborated on site the procedures required by the export protocol in all aspects, particularly plant health. And finally, in January after several years of negotiations, Brazil gave the go ahead for the Spanish produce.

The total value of bilberry exports from Huelva was 317 million euros during the last campaign, which meant a 14% increase. The volume reached 55,000 tonnes, 2% lower than the previous year.

The sector continues to maintain its commercial challenges and it is still working on the trade opening processes with the two Asian giants: India and China.

The high demand for bilberries is causing a significant increase in the planted surface area in all the producing countries, such as Morocco, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. It is expected that world consumption will reach 1,400 million kilos in 2024.

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