Uruguay blueberry industry targets quality niche

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Gill McShane

BY GILL McSHANE

Uruguay blueberry industry targets quality niche

Exporters are looking to establish a market position as a high-quality supplier

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Uruguay's blueberry industry is developing at a pace following a second wave of planting from 2004 onwards and last year’s opening of the lucrative US market. With 858ha already in production across the north-east and south-east of the country and acreage expected to almost double to 1,500ha in the next few years, the small South American nation has its sights set on becoming a solid supplier of quality fruit.

"Demand for fresh blueberries is increasing at a slower rate than supply, but the Uruguayan industry is not looking to compete on the world market in terms of volumes – that's what Chile and Argentina are here to do," said Alberto Grille Coronel, who heads up the Uruguayan Union of Fresh Produce Producers and Exporters (Upefruy) and local blueberry exporter Berries del Sur. "Uruguay’s window is relatively small and we have a small quality niche on the market which requires a great deal of effort and organisation to maintain," he added.

In 2007/08, Uruguay exported 600 tonnes of fresh blueberries, of which 25 per cent (or 140 tonnes) was shipped to the US. In 2008/09, exports are anticipated to more than triple to 1,500 tonnes. Some 50 per cent (or 750 tonnes) will go to the US with the balance headed for other destinations.

Although many suppliers are focusing on the US as their single-largest market in the long-term, Mr Grille claimed all of Uruguay's export destinations are important for the growth of the industry. "Uruguay is focusing on those markets which are more selective than others, particularly in terms of quality," Mr Grille explained. "Uruguayan blueberries have distinct and interesting characteristics of size, taste, quality, safety and certification."

These factors combined make Uruguay a regular and reliable source of supply, according to Mr Grille. "The blueberry industry in Uruguay can be distinguished by its careful planning and regular monitoring of production processes and weather patterns, as well as the close relationship we operate between the supply sector, the sanitary authorities and the government."

The next step for the industry, according to Mr Grille, is to inform the global market about the quality of fruit and service on offer from Uruguay. "Many don’t even know where Uruguay is in the world, so we need to get across the message about the country's potential to supply high-quality blueberries."

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