Belgian importer Special Fruit has revealed current difficulties in meeting market demand for raspberries, blueberries and redcurrants due to lower volumes than expected arriving from Portugal.
The hot weather experienced in Portugal in recent weeks has apparently boosted berry production but caused volumes to fall away faster than foreseen.
Equally problematic has been the huge shortage of pickers. “There is plenty of nice fruit hanging on the bushes, but new and very strict regulations in Portuguese law have made it difficult to engage foreign workers,” said marketing and communications coordinator Sarah Hellemans. “It is a complex situation, totally beyond the control of the growers.”
The picker shortage has been exacerbated by the peak in production, combined with the higher overall volume from growers who have continuously increased their acreage in past seasons.
“Blueberries are relatively easy to pick, compared with raspberries and redcurrants, so growers who have several types of berries are giving priority to blueberries,” said Hellemans. “Unfortunately this hasn’t been sufficient to prevent shortages in blueberries as well.”
In addition, she said, low market prices in recent weeks have persuaded several growers to close down parts of their production.
“It is a very difficult situation, and we at Special Fruit are doing our utmost to ensure programmes are fulfilled without delay," she added.
In the short term, Special Fruit is looking at alternative sources of production to fill the gaps, Hellemans revealed. In the medium and long term, the company is apparently investigating the possibility of rotating its own pickers between its production sites in Portugal and Spain.