Blueberry exports from South Africa expected to increase by 20 per cent

Why Southern Africa’s focus on ‘premium’ makes it a quality partner in blueberry market

Fresh Fruit Portal

This Q&A features highlights from an interview done with Dane Castle, Blueberry Technical Sales Manager Southern Africa at Planasa, who discusses the state of the Southern Africa blueberry season. For the full interview and charts, go to

Could you share insights into the expected volume and quality of the 2024 Southern African Blueberry season?

Southern Africa is known for its high-quality produce, and we expect this season to be no different. The Western Cape seems to be running a little earlier this year, possibly by about four to six weeks. But with the winter only setting in now, it’s still too early to tell. 

In the north, the volume might arrive a bit later, similar to last year. This delay is primarily due to the older genetic varieties planted there, similar to those in Peru. Blueberries from this area are expected to arrive two to three weeks later. We anticipate around 25,000 tonnes of good quality produce as the winter has now set in.

Moderate to warm days with cold evenings are crucial for maintaining quality, and that’s what Southern Africa is known for. We see these conditions occurring this season, which bodes well for the quality of our produce.

What have been and are the challenges of this 2024 season?

The biggest challenge for South Africa, and Southern Africa in general, at the moment is logistics, particularly sea freight. Our harbors, especially Durban Harbour and Cape Town Harbour, have been rated as very poor, operating at only 20 to 30% of their potential efficiency. This causes significant delays and poses a huge risk to both quality of the product and performance in the market.

Our ports are entirely state-owned, which is a challenge for the entire fresh export industry, not just for blueberries. The industry is advocating for more private partnerships to allow for investment in training, hiring more workers, acquiring better machinery, and ultimately establishing a more efficient system to expedite exports from South Africa.

Currently, most of the industry relies on air freight, particularly early in the season. The biggest challenges with air freight are availability and cost. Many exporters are selling premium jumbo fruit, allowing them to justify the high air freight costs. Last year, due to high demand for air freight, almost everything was shipped this way—probably 90% of the exports, even to Europe.

What are the opportunities of this 2024 season?

Peru’s shifting production schedule creates significant potential for our market. Typically, about 50% of Peru’s production occurs in September and October. However, the peak is now shifting more towards October-November, with only about 30 to 40% of the total volume during that period. Additionally, another 30% of the total volume is expected in December-January. This shift benefits South Africa because most of our early growing regions aim to complete their harvest by September-October with a premium crop, ensuring they remain competitive despite Peru’s later peak.

The Netherlands and the UK have historically been the main importers of Southern African blueberries. How do you see this evolving in the coming years?

When the blueberry industry started in South Africa, it was mostly dominated by Berry World, which has a strong connection to the UK. Consequently, a significant portion of our hectares was planted with Berry World varieties, primarily supplied to the UK. As long as Berry World remains a key player, the UK will continue to be one of our main destinations. The UK recognizes the high quality of blueberries from South Africa and Southern Africa, consistently looking to our region for their premium sector. Some retailers are already seeking premium varieties from us for about 30% of their shelf space. While a good portion of their supply comes from Peru, they often turn to Southern Africa for top-tier blueberries.

What do you think are the competitive advantages of Southern African blueberries for the export market, especially as compared to other countries from the Southern Hemisphere such as Perú?

The biggest advantage Southern African blueberries have over Peru is twofold: our timing and our quality.

More growers are planting in the northern parts of South Africa. As a result, we will have increasingly earlier fruit from May onwards. [But] it’s clear that Peru will remain the dominant player in the commodity market due to their vast hectares and high volume. Competing against their scale is unrealistic unless we significantly increase our own hectares, which is a complex undertaking.

Therefore, we should allow Peru to dominate the commodity market while Southern Africa focuses on the premium market. Our emphasis on quality is our biggest advantage and driving factor. Maintaining this focus will continue to set us apart and ensure our success in the premium sector.

We are quite up to date with the replacement of varieties and the introduction of new premium genetics in Southern Africa. This has given us a distinct advantage in supplying premium varieties to retailers in Europe, the UK, and even the Middle East. As a result, the competition with Peru is now almost negligible. The market has recognized this, and we are strategically focusing on maintaining this edge. The demand for premium blueberries is expected to increase. As time goes by, the consumption of blueberries will continue to rise. So there’s no stress or worry about stagnation in the blueberry market.



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