We are proud to see the berry category continue its number one ranking in the produce department, primarily because it was achieved by volume increases rather than inflation. Increasing berry sales over the past several years is easily explainable: continuous improvements in quality, year-round availability, fabulous health benefits, affordability, product versatility, and super high consumer popularity.
Retail growth is almost a no-brainer. However the researchers reveal the frightening challenges to future sustainable production increases – accessibility to farm labor and escalating regulatory compliance costs in the face of intense foreign competition. Growers are excited at the steady increase in American consumption and will continue to work to overcome the obstacles.
Rabobank, which is a major player in agricultural lending, has forecast that the current booming trend for berry sales in the United States will continue at a 7 percent annual growth rate over the next three years. And that view has support within the industry.
On Nov. 1, Rabobank’s Food and Agribusiness Research and Advisory group released a report, titled “The U.S. Fresh Berry Boom — Who Will Profit from the Growth?”
The report stated that while sales will continue to trend upward, there are mitigating factors that will make it challenging for growers and shippers to remain profitable. On that list, the report mentions escalating production costs, labor and land issues, import competition and the sheer market power of retailers as reasons producer margins will continue to face pressure.
“While the near-term outlook for U.S. fresh berry sales looks good, producers are likely to continue to experience rising costs and constrained resources,” said Karen Halliburton-Barber, assistant vice president and senior agricultural analyst for Rabobank and the author of the report, in a press release. “Successful players in the coming years will embrace growing demand with greater production efficiencies and innovation, taking advantage of new varieties and technology advancements.”
The Rabobank report noted that California produces 88 percent of the country’s fresh strawberries and significant portions of fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Florida is also a significant producer of fresh berries, and faces similar challenges to that of California. The report said Florida also has to deal more directly with import pressure as increases in imports of strawberries and blueberries from Mexico and Chile compete directly with Florida’s season. Chile now accounts for more than 50 percent of imported blueberries.
Mr. Ronan said berry production in both this part of the world and Europe will continue to see a north-to-south shift. In Europe, he said production is moving south from northern Europe to Spain and northern Africa including Morocco, where Driscoll does have growing deals. In this area of the world, production of berries is also moving south from British Columbia and continuing all the way south along the coast to Chile. This shift will continue following seasonal patterns, but also seeing increased volume in the more southern regions.
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