Today’s berry market is versatile. It involves not only fresh soft fruits, but also dried products, extracts, juices and beverages, oils and other highly specialized ingredients. The growing trends of convenience, naturalness and intrinsic health benefits compute to mean that the role of berries is more important today than ever. The category is experiencing strong growth in all areas of commerce.
In 2008, a report titled, Berries in the World: Introduction to the international markets of berries, was researched and prepared by Invenire Market Intelligence for SITRA/Lapinnova, a Finnish innovation fund. The report states that berries used to be available in areas in the world where they are produced during each region’s very short summer season, but the reality is very different today.
The report states that, botanically speaking, berries in themselves are versatile, and it points out that only a few of the fruits we commonly call berries today are true berries. True berries are a simple fruit having seeds and edible pulp produced from a single ovary. In common language, berries — with the exception of grapes and a few other small fruits—are referred to as any small fruit that can be eaten whole and lacks objectionable seeds.
Berries are usually brightly colored, sweet, sour or very tart, but all are desirable in a healthy diet. They have excellent visual appeal, good flavor, aroma and texture. Producers report that berries should be of even fruit size and have firm skin for a pleasant eating experience.
The report states that the fresh berry market has three main drivers: quality, availability and costs.
Factors related to availability are product life, season extension and packaging. Both the store shelf life and home-life of the berries need to be as long as possible, and so it is important that the cool chain is well managed throughout the transportation process so that the life of the products is optimized.
Another major goal of berry suppliers is to achieve 52-week availability for their customers. In order to achieve this, they typically have to source berries from growing regions around the world. However, the development of year-round sourcing is somewhat ambivalent. As berry demand has increased, especially over the past decade, berry producers were realizing that they were contributing to consumer confusion because people did not know when berries were at their best or when the actual local seasons were taking place. In other words, they didn’t know where the berries they were consuming were being grown.
Research reveals that consumers appreciate the seasonality of some berries. Despite that the locally grown initiatives and consumer awareness have increased in recent years, U.S. imports continue to grow by between 10 and 20 percent annually on average in attempts to meet the growing demand for year-round supplies. Locally grown efforts are apparently not diminishing consumers’ demand for berries.
Apart from sourcing from various locations, another measure to increase availability is through production techniques and varietal development.
Cost or production is managed through the increased use of high-yielding varieties, the development of easier picking methods, more efficient use of water and fertilizers and improved logistical infrastruction. The control of the supply chain is one of the most important factors of fresh fruit.
The strong and growing increase in demand for fresh berries is, the report states, fueled foremost by the megatrend of health issues that is sweeping around the globe. There is little doubt that we will continue to see increases in berry imports, and from increasingly more foreign countries in the future.