GBC2016 stage

The growing number of consumers willing to pay a premium for quality will drive the development of new improved berry varieties and bring plant breeding and genetics into sharper focus in the coming years.

That was one of the key themes to emerge at this Global Berry Congress 2016, which saw 350 delegates from more than 30 countries gather at the World Trade Center in Rotterdam this week to discuss current and future trends within the berry industry and learn how the category can maintain the momentum it has built up in the past decade and ensure that global demand keeps on growing in the years ahead.

If breeding is the foundation on which the success of the industry is built, then ensuring that the quality message is getting through to consumers is equally important. As well as sophisticated flavours, today’s consumers demand berries that have been grown in a socially and environmentally friendly way. Successful breeding programmes must take these needs into account while also ensuring that varieties are profitable for the grower.

Over the course of two days, members of the international soft fruit industry heard from expert speakers from across the globe on some of the key issues affecting the sector. Opening the conference with an overview of current trends in the food retail market, Marco Kesteloo of Strategy& predicted that retailers would turn increasingly to fresh food suppliers as drivers of innovation and efficiency in the coming years.

While grocery spend has remained flat over the past 15 years, retail capacity has increased across all store formats, leading to a significant fall in productivity, Kesteloo said. In order to remain productive, retailers needed to come up with “new ways to play”, creating new opportunities for berry suppliers.

Rabobank’s Cindy van Rijswick predicted that as the market matures, it will be dominated by 10-15 big players able to supply their retail customers year-round. She also expected to see closer cooperation among growers, breeders and marketers, bringing greater efficiency to the supply chain. In order to survive, small players will need to focus on niche products and sectors, such as redcurrants or organics.

Citing research showing that a 10 per cent drop in the berry price can result in a 10-20 per cent rise in consumption, van Rijswick said lowering prices and finding greater efficiencies would create a win-win situation for the retailer and the grower.

Quality focus

The quality message was reinforced by Mario Loi of Spanish breeder Fresas Nuevos Materiales, who argued that success in new markets is dependent on developing varieties combining excellent taste and a long shelf-life, such as FNM’s latest offering, the provisionally named Rociera strawberry.

José Gandía of SAT Royal noted that the berry category’s ability to tap into consumer concerns about health suggested this was just the beginning of a berry revolution, demonstrating the potential that exists within the category. Royal has also gone down the quality road, tapping into the expertise of the University of Florida breeding programme to develop its Blue Aroma, a blueberry with a strong, sweet aroma that is proving a hit with consumers, particularly children.

Delegates also heard from Sandra Wolters and Newton Kalengamaliro of Driscoll’s, Ela Daher of Cuna de Platero and SanLucar’s Holger Brandt about some of the marketing innovations that are helping to sustain the recent growth in the industry. From the SanLucar blocks revolutionising supermarket fresh produce aisles to Driscoll’s moves to strengthen the cooperation between breeders and marketers and Cuna de Platero’s 360-degreeeapproach to marketing, it is clear that there is no shortage of new ideas on how to take the category forward.

Break-out sessions on Asia and Poland took an in-depth look at one of the fastest-growing markets and supply sources to emerge in recent years, while presentations by Timo Tarkianen of Priva, Mihai Ciobanu of Fresh4Cast and Luigi Caraviglia of Ilip provided snapshots of how technology in irrigation, packaging and crop forecasting can help growers stay ahead of the competition.

The second day of the event provided delegates with opportunities to attend study tours, including visits to substrate specialist Legro, the Wageningen University Research Centre, production innovation centre Delphy, and retailers Jumbo, Marqt, La Fourchette, Albert Heijn and Ekoplaza.