Guatemalan growers see potential for blackberries and await US opening for organic blueberries

From Fresh Fruit Portal | 21 March 2024

Overview of berries from Guatemala in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on March 20, 2024.

By Sebastian Ramírez

The United States is the number one destination for Guatemalan berries, but not all types of berries are guaranteed access. That’s something the Guatemalan industry is trying to change. 

Francisco Solórzano, business director of Kultiva Organics Guatemala, spoke to last week at Agritrade in Antigua. He said the main berry category exported from the country to the U.S. is blackberries. 

The company, an exporter under the Agrocumbre brand, also sends fruit to Europe, Canada, and other countries in Central America. 

Expanding blackberry exports

Blackberries can enter the U.S. market easily, without onerous restrictions, Solórzano said. That has made the category attractive for Guatemalan growers.

“All blackberry exporters in Guatemala send our fruit to Miami by air. There are many flights to this destination every day, so it’s an easy route to work with,” Solórzano said. 

Solórzano believes that soon, Guatemalan blackberries will be able to compete with Mexico.

Guatemala is the second largest exporter of fresh blackberries to the U.S., with an average of 5.4 million pounds per year, 2% of the total share. It is second to Mexico, which dominates the market with a 98% share, reaching over 255 million pounds in 2023, according to USDA data

An advantage for Guatemala is that its peak export window for blackberries falls between August and September when the Mexico deal is over and Peru is still not in full swing. 

“If we increase our volumes in this period, we can take advantage of that high price window, which is not available all year,” he said. 

all commodities volumes

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

The hope for blueberries

Not all Guatemalan berry crops have access to the United States, however. As Solórzano explained, the existing protocol is a barrier for organic Guatemalan blueberries as it increases costs, making them unable to compete in the market. 

“Organic blueberries are on standby because the only port they are allowed to arrive in is Philadelphia. Then it must go through a fumigation process, and since all of our product is organic, we can’t do that,” he said. 

Kultiva is now working on a program to put the fruit through a cold treatment, allowing the fruit to enter Philadelphia without fumigation. 

Regardless, Solórzano is optimistic they will be granted access soon, given the number of growers investing in new blueberry cultivars in the country.

“I expect that in a short time, Guatemala will be an important player in blueberry production,” he assured.

“We are sure that next year, we will be the first ones to send the first container of organic Guatemalan blueberries to the U.S. in collaboration with Maersk.”

However, blueberries are a long-term project. Until the U.S. and Guatemalan governments establish blueberry protocol, he says the issue will not be solved. 

According to Solórzano, the industry is already in contact with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture and intermediaries with the U.S. to define the process.

At the moment, demand in Central America is very high, so regional sales remain more convenient than shipping it to Philadelphia. There is also less competition in these markets.

Strawberries and raspberries a ‘complicated’ topic

Speaking about other berry categories, Solórzano said, in the case of strawberries, Guatemala has a scarcity of the fruit. 

“Instead of exporting strawberries and assuming the risk, producers sell their fruit in local supermarkets, or to closer destinations within Central America,” he said. 

He added that the risk is simply not worth taking, because of volatile prices in the U.S. market and low volumes available in the country. 

Regarding raspberries, he said the product has high potential but few producers in Guatemala.

“At Kultiva, we are bringing new plants this year, but on previous occasions, we haven’t been able to produce the appropriate amounts to supply the Central American market, less so the American,” he said.

Outlook on the Guatemalan berry industry

Looking ahead five to ten years, Solórzano thinks the blackberry industry will keep growing, implementing new varieties like Sweet Caroline, which have “impressive sweetness and brix levels.”

Improving the consistency of the fruit and reducing air freight costs will help increase volumes to North America. 

All new varieties in the market with better qualities come from the U.S., and a few from Europe.

“I think all berry production will increase in Guatemala, starting with blackberries and blueberries. Even the scarcity of strawberries means that we are all trying to produce more, so hopefully, we can reach that point in production where it’s more convenient to export the fruit than to sell in the local market,” Solórzano said.

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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