Blueberry Imports a Complement to Southeastern Producers?

Clint Thompson Berries, Florida, Georgia, Top Posts

The Blueberry Coalition of Progress and Health contends that imports of blueberries do not take away markets from southeastern growers but complements their production.

It made its case to the International Trade Commission (ITC) on Jan. 12 during a virtual hearing and continues to believe there is a big enough “blueberry pie” for all parties to benefit from.

“That’s why the coalition was formed. We wanted to continue the momentum that the blueberry industry has done over the last few years and the growth and the demand,” said Joe Barsi, President of California Giant, which is a member of the coalition. “The average consumer eats 1.79 pounds of blueberries per year. That’s up significantly. It’s still pales in comparison to a category likes strawberries where consumers eat seven pounds a year of strawberries.

“We wanted to continue the momentum and we feel like limiting imports will raise prices to the U.S. consumer. It will decrease demand and we’ll lose the momentum the industry has realized. I think the domestic industry has really benefited from the imports in having a consistent supply at retail year-round that’s fairly priced.”

Section 201 Investigation

Blueberry imports have been a struggle for growers in the southeast to compete with every year. It was the focus of a Section 201 investigation where the American Blueberry Growers Alliance presented data to the ITC during the Jan. 12 hearing that outlined the imports’ impact on southeast blueberry production, which it believes has resulted in serious injury.

Statistically Speaking

According to the American Blueberry Growers Alliance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Service reported a 68% increase in imported fruit from Mexico from 2019 to 2020, amounting to more than 15 million pounds of fresh blueberries during a 14-week period. Mexico, along with Peru, Chile, Canada and Argentina account for more than 98% of total U.S. imports. Import values increased from $530 million in 2014 to $1.2 billion in 2019.

Jerome Crosby, Chairman of the American Blueberry Growers Alliance, testified that imports of fresh blueberries have increased 75% over the past five years and is only expected to worsen.

Supply and Demand

Barsi believes that the blueberry demand requires the consistent imports that are coming from places like Mexico and Peru.

“There’s such a demand in the marketplace for fruit, say in the spring window when Florida is producing, there’s such a demand for fruit that Florida and southern California wouldn’t be able to supply the market for the demand that it requires. That’s why we feel like imports have been a really good complement to that,” Barsi said.

“For someone like California Giant or another company like ourselves, we’re in the market 52 weeks out of the year. To be able to supply our customers with a supply of blueberries year-round, we have to be able to have both, domestic and imports, to be able to supply those requirements.”

Who Makes Up the Blueberry Coalition of Progress and Health?

The Blueberry Coalition of Progress and Health is compromised of a broad range of domestic and international producers as well as distributors. Some retailers are on the coalition as well.

“It was basically formed, we wanted to continue the progress that the blueberry market has continued to have over the last 15 to 20 years. I’ve been involved in blueberries for 15 years, and there’s been significant growth in the marketplace,” Barsi said. “The coalition was formed to be able to provide data to the International Trade Commission on why we think that imports haven’t been a serious injury to the domestic industry.”

ITC Investigation Timeline

Important dates

  • January 12th – Public hearing 
  • January 19th – Post-hearing briefs
  • February 3rd – Staff report (internal)
  • February 11th – Injury public vote (scheduled)

For the remedy phase (if affirmative injury is determined):

  • February 18th – Prehearing briefs
  • February 25th – Public hearing
  • March 3rd – Post-hearing briefs
  • March 19th – Remedy public vote (scheduled)
  • March 29th – Determination, views and report delivered to the President
  • May 27 as the deadline for the President’s decision

Blueberry Coalition Members

  • Agroberries S.A.
  • Alpine Fresh Inc.
  • Aneberries A.C.
  • Berries Paradise S.A.P.I. de C.V.
  • California Giant Berry Farms
  • Camposol Fresh USA, Inc
  • Driscoll’s, Inc.
  • Family Tree Farms
  • Fresh Produce Association of the Americas
  • Giddings Berries
  • Hortifruit
  • Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce
  • Pro Arandanos
  • United Exports Limited
  • Reiter Affiliated Companies
  • Chilean Blueberry Committee
  • Chilealimentos