Opportunities for Canadian blueberries abound

While the blueberry industry has recently experienced price and profitability challenges, I’ve noticed several positive factors emerging in the blueberry sector:

Global blueberry consumption has grown by leaps and bounds 

In North America, blueberry consumption has grown from 272,000 tonnes in 2010 to over 400,000 tonnes in 2014.  Demand in Europe has also increased, growing from 55,800 tonnes in 2010 to nearly 100,000 tonnes in 2014.   

Increasing incomes in Asia has shifted consumption trends towards more small fruits including blueberries.  Asian consumption has increased 248 per cent from 15,000 to over 52,000 tonnes over the 2010-2014 time period. Even more impressive is imports of blueberries into Asia, having increased over 2,300 per cent from 2008 to 2012.  It is anticipated the growth will continue and could potentially triple over the next decade.

Canada is a major player in the blueberry market

Canadian production of blueberries has grown at an average annual rate of approximately 12 per cent over the last five years to 163,000 metric tonnes in 2014, of which 30,000 tonnes was exported. Canadian production is largely split between British Columbia and Eastern Canada. Low bush blueberries account for slightly more than half of production and are more dominant in the East, whereas high bush blueberries are dominant in BC.   

Blueberry production in the U.S. has also grown at nearly the same rate as Canadian production, with an increase from 169,000 tonnes in 2009 to 261,000 tonnes in 2014.  In comparison, blueberry production in Chile is smaller than the U.S., but experiencing the fastest growth. And the country exports up to 90 per cent of its production.    

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement could be significant once ratified

The TPP includes Asian markets like Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia providing market access to where consumer trends are shifting. All three of the largest producing countries are future members of the TPP.

Preliminary details around the TPP agreement suggest that once ratified:

  • Japan is scheduled to eliminate immediately tariffs of 9.6 per cent and six per cent on frozen and fresh blueberries, respectively.   
  • Vietnam would remove tariffs of 15 per cent for fresh blueberries and tariffs of 30 per cent on frozen blueberries.
  • Malaysia’s tariffs of five per cent on both frozen and fresh blueberries would be removed.

Lower tariffs could lead to reduced sourcing costs for buyers of Canadian blueberries, and thus larger demand in our export markets. Canadian blueberry producers will also face competition from other TPP exporters. Investing in productivity and efficiency now could unlock profits for blueberry operations down the road.   

Leigh Anderson, Senior Agricultural Economist