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By Pablo Gómez, International Quality Assurance Manager for table grapes at IFG

Global fruit production has not only persevered in the face of a worldwide health crisis, but it has also continued to adapt in response to the evolving landscape. A fast-paced industry already familiar with navigating unpredictable conditions and forecasting market demand, the agricultural sector never slowed down, even in the worst times of the pandemic.

However, that’s not to say the journey was without any roadblocks: COVID-19 brought a wave of challenges with everything from labour to logistics. Yet, as consumer interest in fresh produce increased by more than 10 percent in 2020, fruit suppliers, scientists, horticulturists, and growers are overcoming these setbacks to usher in a new period of efficiency and innovation.

Weathering the storm of staffing and safety

Like countless other business sectors, fruit-focused agriculture struggled with staffing at the outset of the pandemic. But while many companies turned to remote work options, the nature of agricultural operations needs employees to remain primarily in the fields.

The produce industry requires a significant amount of hand labour, particularly for table grapes and cherries. Managing thousands of employees who work simultaneous in-person shifts became an immediate area of focus. The main issue was the prevention of outbreaks in both the packhouse facilities and in the fields. Growers had to react quickly, forming small and segregated groups of workers adhering to organized schedules. In addition, the implementation of regular PCR tests enhanced other standard safety protocols that helped protect workers. While the actions were a costly investment, growers kept operations safe and healthy while maintaining productivity.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, though, staffing challenges persist. Due to new procedures and safety limitations, a scarcity of workers and higher costs still impact day-to-day operations worldwide. But while the problems are exacerbated given current conditions, this is nothing new for produce growers, especially in the United States where employment of agricultural workers is essentially at a standstill — it’s expected to increase only 2 percent from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations.

Navigating logistical burdens

The economic downturn has increased costs across the entire fruit supply chain, from growing and harvesting to delivering the product to market. As the pandemic continued into and throughout 2021, it became apparent that one of its most pronounced effects on the global fruit industry was on logistical operations.

The early days of lockdown restrictions and a slowdown in the production of goods created a ripple effect, sending refrigerated containers into a backlog of storage at cargo ports and inland depots. By mid-2021, wait times to procure a container stretched anywhere from weeks to months depending on departure port and arrival destination.

The supply chain has faced a global shortage of containers projected to last into 2022, resulting in severe inflation in materials and transport costs. McKinsey & Company reported it now costs up to six times more to ship a container from China to Europe than it did at the start of 2019.

A fresh take on the future of fruit production

Despite these challenges, the pandemic has shown how well prepared the agriculture industry is to adapt its systems in response to both adversity and increased demand.

The trend of healthy living and a desire for nutritious food that emerged over the last two years is a worldwide movement with evident staying power. The United Nations even designated 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. Manifested through behaviors such as at-home cooking and greater consciousness about food brought into the homes, the health and wellness trends have directly impacted the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Fruit scientists, horticulturalists, and growers alike are looking to long-term solutions for meeting this need. For worldwide fruit-breeding company IFG, the answer could lie in a recent focus on breeding as much year-round fruit as possible as part of an overall quality and support strategy. IFG is known for inventing flavour-forward table grapes, including the Cotton Candy™ variety, which hold numerous health benefits in line with current consumer interests. By creating a 52-week table grape supply in partnership with growers worldwide, IFG aims to transform the fruit industry and contribute to a more sustainable production of premium table grapes and cherries.

In a sector where food and safety standards are already incredibly high, another key area that can influence growth and opportunity is leveraging technology to increase the simplicity and efficiency of production. The agritech tools that a reported 56 percent of U.S. farms have now adopted can help strengthen global fruit production with automation that eases the burden of labour shortages, conserves resources and mitigates crop losses.

As technology and scientific strategy rapidly advance, the industry is poised to thrive in a post-pandemic world. These professional improvements will affect every part of the supply chain, from the fields where the fruit is grown and harvested to the carts where consumers add their nature’s bounty. Looking into 2022 and beyond, industry leaders will keep one eye on innovation while maintaining a stable production to ensure the world remains healthy and fed.

About the Author
Pablo Gómez joined IFG in 2018 and currently serves as the company’s International Quality Assurance Manager for Table Grapes. In this role, he works to develop IFG’s international table grape and cherry quality assurance program. Prior to working at IFG, Pablo served as a grape source technologist at Munoz Group, where he became experienced in the particularities of the table grape industry across different countries while also focusing on quality assurance for the U.K. market. Pablo started his career as an agricultural engineer intern at Investigación y Tecnología de Uva de Mesa (ITUM) while finishing his degree in agricultural engineering at Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena.

The global pectin market is estimated to reach USD 1.87 billion by 2026 and is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 6.4 % from 2018 to 2026. Pectin market is projected to witness significant growth over the forecast period. Increasing health consciousness among consumers and various health benefits of pectin products is expected to drive the global market over the forecast period.

Pectin are plant-derived compounds, a structural heteropoly saccharide that is contained in primary cell walls of the terrestrial plants. It is mainly extracted from citrus fruits, apples, apricots, cherries, oranges, and carrots. Commercially, it is available in the form of white to light brown powder. The industry is characterized by companies characterized by medium level of integration in the value chain. Packaging and shipping play an important role in integrating the value chain. This helps the companies to incorporate their businesses in a cost-effective way.

Suppliers include companies which are involved in the production & distribution of processes raw materials such as apple, citrus, and others. The rising shortage of raw materials and increased import for Brazil and European countries is resulting in high bargaining power to the suppliers. In addition, low threat of backward integration from manufacturers, except some of the major and giant market players is also resulting in high bargaining power of suppliers.

The pectin market witnesses an external threat of substitution from natural gum and Citri-fi. Citri-fi is natural functional fibers, which are derived from citrus fruits. They offer hydrocolloidal properties, which is significant for high water holding capabilities. There are also some synthetic alternatives such as polyurethane, but these are usually not considered suitable for skin contact applications. However, the various advantages of pectin over these products are expected to lower the threat.

Pectin extracted from this raw material are used for high cholesterol high blood pressure, & blood sugar, joint pain, weight loss, prevent colon & prostate cancer, high triglycerides, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and diabetes. In addition, some people also use pectin to prevent poisoning caused by strontium, and other heavy metals.

Despite the shortage in the supply of raw material, some of the major players are also trying to increase their production capacity to meet the demand. For instance, Cargill acquired FMC’s plant to boost their pectin production capacity. The market is highly fragmented and competitive. In addition, it also experiences the presence of small-scale as well as giant players. The key and major companies are investing in R&D activities and frequently involved in merger and acquisition to increase their market share and product portfolio. Some of the companies that have a significant influence in the industry include DuPont Nutrition & Health, FMC Corporation, CPKelco, Herbstreith & Fox, Devson Impex Private Limited, Cargill Incorporated, B&V srl. and Yantai Andre Pectin Co. Ltd.

Growth in food & beverage industries, in emerging economies, is expected to drive the Asia Pacific market. The market is projected to grow rapidly in the Asia Pacific region, owing to the changing lifestyle of consumers in emerging economies including, China and India. The rising health consciousness among consumers and the presence of major players in North America is projected to positively drive the growth of the market over the forecast period.

Prime season for US and Turkish cherries, low harvest for Spanish nectarines and Italian apricots

Tridge, a global sourcing platform and market intelligence hub for food buyers and suppliers have reported that the US and Turkish cherry market is expected to have a prime harvest season due to optimal growing conditions, whereas Spanish nectarines and Italian apricots are experiencing difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. With harvest season commencing for many stone fruits, data collected by Tridge reveals which countries are experiencing highs and lows.

Winner: US fresh cherries

The US fresh cherry market is set to remain steady at 450k tons due to prime weather conditions for production, offsetting a biennial off-year decline in cyclical tart production. Washington, California, and Oregon are the primary sweet cherry producing states, accounting for almost 90 percent of the quantity nationwide. Domestically, the cherry season starts as early as April in California; and can finish as late as August in Montana.

Recent years have brought a number of challenges to cherry growers in California, with weather conditions and temperature fluctuations affecting dormancy. 2018 saw a decrease of 58 % in boxes produced (4 million boxes) compared to that of the previous year (9.5 million boxes) due to a freeze during bloom. And, record rains diminished the harvest to 5.25 million boxes in 2019 which was around half of the year’s original forecast.

From 2017 to 2019, tariffs implemented by China contributed to slow exports and production. However, early this year, China lowered the rates on Californian cherries by 30 % as part of the new tariff exclusions for US agricultural products; and, US suppliers are expected to start increasing shipments.

Winner: Turkey fresh cherries

Turkish cherries have had success with harvests in the past few years and despite minor logistical hiccups from the coronavirus, Turkey is expected to continue the positive streak.

The weather has been optimal for stone fruit production in the past few seasons, and 824K tons of cherries were produced in 2018/2019, up by 24.5K tons from the previous season. Forecasts for the MY 2019/2020 season were even higher, at 865K tons of cherries.

Strategically, Turkey has leaned towards satisfying the demands of the export market. Cherry farmers have been selective in planting high-yield trees, as well as planting sweet cherries over sour ones which are higher in-demand.

Turkey’s top export market for stone fruits, Russia, has increased Turkish stone fruit imports the most over the past year, with growth in value of 44.2 % for cherries. Turkey has managed to appeal to consumers worldwide with its attractive prices, an advantage made possible by low labour costs and high supply. Furthermore, Turkey’s currency has been steadily devalued against other currencies. Turkey’s cherry prices in the global market have decreased by 18.9 % within the past year.

The Turkish stone fruit sector remains largely unaffected by the coronavirus. Unlike other major producing countries such as Spain, Turkey has not suffered from severe labour shortages, as production is mainly done with domestic labour rather than seasonal workers. Exports to Russia will experience some delays due to increased border checks, but the impact is expected to be minimal.

Struggler: Spanish nectarines

The harvest season for Spanish nectarines and peaches has started in the regions of Murcia, Catalonia, and Aragon, and is expected to finish late May. Spain shows a consistent export season from March to October, with the peak period between May and September.

However, the yield for the Spanish nectarine market is projected to be 508 million kg, which is a 20 % decrease in volume compared to last year. Suppliers are expecting a further decrease in harvest volume due to labour shortages from Covid-19. While Spain has not implemented any major restrictions, it is estimated that up to 40 % of the workforce will be impacted as migrant workers from Morocco, Belarus, and Ukraine are not allowed to enter the country.

Spain is the biggest exporter of nectarines and peaches, with its main export markets including Germany, France, Italy, and the UK. With export volume totalling 829.4K tons in 2019, the demand for the fruits has increased by 23 % this year. Yet, increased demand and labour shortages have seen the wholesale price of nectarines surge by up to 43 %, which could soften the blow of the smaller harvest. For example, the white nectarine has increased from EUR 1.50 to EUR 2.13, while the yellow nectarine has increased from EUR 1.50 to EUR 2.15.

Struggler: Italian apricots

Italy is the second-biggest exporter of apricots, reaching an export volume of 56.3K tons in 2019. The expected production for 2020, however, has been hampered by frosts that occurred in late March and early April, with production in Northern Italy affected the most. The Northern Emilia Romagna region has seen the biggest estimated production decrease of almost 90 % compared to last year.

The total Italian production volume for 2020 is expected to be 136K tons, a 56 % decrease from approximately 307K tons in 2019. While suppliers have seen increases in demand from Central and Northern regions, there has been very little demand from the South. Apricot producers are also left with more obstacles to overcome as a decreased number of workers has left the farms with a shortage of labour to harvest the fruits.

Hoshik Shin, founder and CEO at Tridge, said: “While there are many external factors that can determine the success of a harvest season, normally the primary influencer is the weather. US cherries are an excellent example of how hot or cold conditions can determine harvest results – optimum harvest conditions translate to greater production volumes which in turn helps meet the demand for the commodity”.

“Unfortunately, some harvest seasons have been negatively impacted due to Covid-19, meaning that labour shortages are contributing to decreases in harvest levels. This means that low prices cannot be easily maintained”.

Using an online sourcing platform that offers market intelligence can help mitigate the impacts on buyers, as it enables them to find alternative suppliers to meet their needs. Suppliers can also benefit from the data provided by platforms such as Tridge, as it can give historic insight into the harvest conditions of previous years as well as provide predictions for future seasons.

About Tridge

Tridge is a global trade ecosystem where buyers and suppliers of agricultural and food products can find everything they need to understand their markets with just a simple search. Using a combination of the latest digital technology and the latest insights gathered through a human network, they provide a very powerful global-scale platform for buyers and suppliers to connect and do business with each other more confidently.

EU-28 production of peaches and nectarines in MY 2018/19 is estimated at 3.5 million MT, 12 percent lower compared to the previous campaign due to unfavorable weather conditions in most of the major producing countries.

Total cherry production in MY 2018/19 is projected to grow to 793,058 MT, a 30 percent increase compared with last season. This increase is supported by expected strong growth in Poland and Germany.

The value of EU-28 stone fruit exports continues to decline as a result of the 2014 Russian embargo imposed on agricultural and food products, including stone fruit, from the European Union. During MY 2017/18, EU imports of U.S. cherries increased significantly, valued at $ 9.4 million, and reinstated the United States as the fourth largest non-EU supplier of cherries. …

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Promotional campaign will focus on boosting Chinese consumption of Chilean blueberries, cherries and other products during 2017-18 export season

The Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX) has launched its 2017-18 export season for cherries, blueberries and other products in China with a workshop for importers at Shanghai’s Huizhan Fruit Market. At the event, the Chilean organisation presented the new season for fresh fruit exports, focusing special attention on table grapes, cherries, kiwifruit, avocados, plums and blueberries; exports that will be supported by promotions to encourage not only greater consumption, but also the positioning of Chile as the number one supplier of off-season fruits to China.

ASOEX’s Marketing Director for Asia and Europe, Charif Christian Carvajal, said: “We met with importers from the Huizhan Fruit Market in Shanghai, China with the aim of analysing last season’s Chilean fruit exports, and giving advance forecasts for the current campaign, focusing in particular on promotional work that we will carry out to encourage consumption of Chilean blueberries and cherries in China.”

As part of the 2017-18 season promotional campaign in China, ASOEX will hold meetings with fruit importers, buyers and distributors at the Guangzhou, Beijing, Shenyang and Chengdu wholesale markets, in addition to meeting with Shanghai-based importers.

Carvajal said that one of the aims of Chilean fruit sector was to gain access for Chilean fresh pears and citrus to China, as well as increasing consumption of cherries, blueberries, avocados and nectarines. He added that every one of the actions had been made possible thanks to the combined efforts of the Chilean fruit export sector and ProChile through the Promotional Fund for Agriculture Exports of Chile’s Ministry for Agriculture.

Chile is the leading exporter of fresh fruits to the Southern Hemisphere, explained Carvajal, having shipped more than 2.6 million tonnes of fresh fruits to different destinations during the 2016-17 season. Of this total, China accounted for 48.3 % of all Chilean fruit exports to Asia. In terms of products, table grapes were the most exported product to China from Chile during the season, accounting for 42 % of total exports to the country, followed by cherries at 23.5 %, plums at 11.7 %, kiwifruit at 7.6 %, avocados at 5.4 %, red apples at 5 % and blueberries at 3.2 %.

Planned promotions

The Huizhan event also included the participation of Steve Lee, Business Director of Publicis and Patti Sun, CEO of Publicis-partner BetterWay China who had the task of detailing the planned promotional actions for the campaign, including dates and locations. BetterWay China’s Patti Sun said that as well as including a continuing budget of US$5 million for its implementation, the campaign would increase the amount of cities involved.

“During the last campaign, we included 37 cities that corresponded to Tiers 1, 2 and 3, and this year we want to reach 58, which will also include Tier 4 and 5 cities and the potential for consumption they represent,” she said. “As well as this, to better coordinate and control the campaign, we will be hiring an expert in China.”
Publicis’ Steven Lee added that some of aspects of the campaign that would be enhanced this season by actions focused on E-commerce and wholesale markets.

“Although the results of the last campaign were very positive, there are aspects we would like to improve, particularly after gathering feedback from the Chilean fruit sector,” he explained. “For this reason, we are expanding work at an E-commerce level by continuing what we are already doing with T-mall and JD.com, but also increasing our participation on other platforms at a regional level. We will also be increasing our promotional actions for wholesale markets.”

Blueberries

Looking at the blueberry promotional campaign, Carvajal said this would begin with online promotional actions in collaboration with Miss Fresh App and KOL to generate messages on social media, as well as launching advertising on vending machines. The campaign will also include appearances in Chinese media outlets, such as CCTV, Sina, Ifeng, DTV, and others.

“In terms of point-of-sale marketing, we will be carrying out activities in 10 cities, three retail chains, three wholesale markets, 22 hypermarkets and 200 Pagoda specialist fruit shops; actions which we be key to boosting consumption of Chilean blueberries,” added Carvajal. “The activities will kick off two weeks before Chinese New Year, with the aim of directly reaching 308 people per store.”