Alan Winde said this was a growing market and coupled with the fact that blueberries were a labour-intensive crop. Photo: African News Agency (ANA)

CAPE TOWN – South African blueberry producers plan to tap new markets. Strong global growth – with market share having increased from just 0.19 percent in 2008 – to 1.1 percent in 2016, has seen South Africa initiating substantial investment into blueberry production. 

The blueberry world market has experienced significant growth in recent years, expanding from R8.8 billion in 2011 to R33.7bn in 2016, translating into annual average growth of more than 30 percent. All indications are that the global market is still growing to meet the demand that is still much higher than supply.

Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde said this was a growing market and coupled with the fact that blueberries were a labour-intensive crop, the ability to create 2.96 jobs per hectare meant that there was real potential for the Western Cape to grow its blueberry exports, expand the province's economy and create new jobs in the agricultural sector.

“We've seen exceptional growth in a number of our berry crops, and this is one of the reasons the Department of Agriculture has been investing in the alternative crops research fund, which is aimed at boosting crops such as berries, cherries and pomegranates as they are water-wise and highly labour-intensive,” said Winde.

According to data from Hortgro and the South African Berry Association, 68 percent of all South Africa's berries are grown in the Western Cape.

Blueberry exports from South Africa have shown annual average growth of about 44 percent and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s fly-over data also shows that the hectares under production for the berries have shown good growth. About 70 percent of all South African blueberries are exported, 16 percent are sold as fresh in the local market and the remainder enter the agri-processing chain.

Winde said that there had been a rise in the number of products from the US using blueberries, which shows the opportunities available in the agri-processing space too.

“One of the pillars of our Project Khulisa strategy is to develop agri-processing. Berries as a whole, and blueberries in particular, have many uses, ranging from jams and juices to baked goods, breakfast cereals, health bars and even freeze-dried and frozen options,” said Winde. Currently, South Africa and the Western Cape’s biggest export market for its blueberries is the UK, with import values for 2016 reaching R228 million.

Although the Netherlands is the second biggest market, market attractiveness data shows that there are a number of markets that have strong potential for development and growth, including Ireland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany and Belgium, while Asian markets in Singapore, Malaysia and China also hold real potential.

Winde said that while the US is the world’s largest consumer of blueberries, this market would be difficult to tap into, primarily because of its proximity to other major producers such as Mexico and Canada in the North and Chile and Peru in the southern hemisphere.