Blueberries were introduced for the first time in Peru in 2007. The climate conditions of the Andean country—characterized by light soil, good quality water, and an absence of rain during harvest time—combined with the available workforce and logistical facilities have created the ideal circumstances to allow blueberries to grow all year long and to be distributed to the international market.
According to the latest market trends and official statistics, Peru is establishing itself as a leading player in the agribusiness sector in general, and as one of the main producers and exporters of blueberries on a global scale. In the southern hemisphere, Peru is a newcomer to the blueberry industry: Chile has been capitalizing on blueberry exports for more than three decades, along with Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In Latin America, Argentina along with Uruguay and Mexico are also consolidating their operations in the blueberry segment.
The growth of Peruvian blueberries has been remarkable: according to Sierra Exportadora, in 2012, exports of blueberries totaled USD84,000; production subsequently increased dramatically, with exports reaching USD15.1 million in 2013.
Modern genetics have overcome the myth that blueberries can only be grown under specific climate conditions. During an interview with TBY, Ulises Quevedo, CEO of Grupo Rocio, stressed the pivotal role that innovation and R&D play for the development of the sector. “Blueberries have evolved into a viable commodity, but they started as an R&D project, as did avocados, mangos, grapes, and pomegranates. The industry has learned and matured over time and what was a spontaneous investment in R&D has become a structured and a budgeted part of our economy. An ideal scenario is for one or two out of 10 R&D products to become successful products over a five-year research period,” said Quevado, adding, “We have challenged the industry by bringing blueberries to the desert.” The results are immediate: according to ADEX, between January and July 2014, Peru exported USD5.6 million in blueberries (+480% compared to the results achieved the previous year).
In the international arena, the main consumers and importers of blueberries are the US, with imports valued at USD600 million in 2014, the UK with USD197 million in exports the same year, followed by Canada and the Netherlands. The UK is considered to be a key market within EU: health, convenience, availability, taste, and quality are driving blueberry sales in the sophisticated British market. According to producebusinessuk.com, 11.3 million households in the UK bought blueberries in 2014 versus 4 million in 2006. Penetration is at 42% currently, up from 20% five years ago.
The demand for blueberries in Asia, and China in particular, is constantly rising: over the last five years, imports went from USD68,000 to USD41 million in 2014. “We expect to open the market by the second half of next year or early 2017. It is still unclear what role China will play in our exports, but it could easily reach at least 30% of the market—as big as Europe, or possibly as large as the US within 10 years,” informed Quevedo.
According to Sierra Exportadora, the total area under cultivation was 1,900ha in 2014. It is expected to reach 3,200ha in 2016. According to an article published in Freshplaza.com, “The expectation is that blueberry crops yield between 10,000 and 15,000kg per hectare; however, taking into account that the investment per hectare is between USD40,000 to USD45,000 dollars, if producers have a minimum yield of 5,000 kg/ha, and prices are at USD10 per kilogram, they would have yearly profits of USD50,000.”
The main regions that are investing in the production of blueberries are Ancash, Apurímac, Arequipa, Cajamarca, Cusco, Junín, La Libertad, Lambayeque, and Pasco.
By 2021, when the crops in these areas are fully productive, Peru will have 30,000ha of blueberry crops.