Blueberries remain the fastest growing berry in the UK, prompting country supplier Georgia to seek closer ties with UK buyers.
Located on the Black Sea in the Caucasus region, Georgia is home to a promising blueberry production and export sector that is undergoing modern expansion.
So much so that Georgian suppliers believe they possess real potential to become a new significant global player.
By 2024, over 1,500 hectares (ha) of blueberries will be in full production in Georgia, according to growers. That planted area will garner a minimum of 15,000 tonnes of fresh blueberries every year.
The up-and-coming country supplier presents a great opportunity for UK buyers, importers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers to strengthen their sourcing of quality blueberries from around the world.
Blueberries are booming in the UK. In the last decade, the UK market for blueberries has tripled in value terms. Sales and consumption are being driven by the fruit’s numerous health benefits, versatility in food and drink, and convenience as a nutritious snack, especially for children.
According to data provided by the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC), berries overall rank second among the top five fresh fruits imported into the UK; growing 7 per cent in volume terms per annum between 2011 and 2020.
Blueberries represent the second-biggest berry category in the UK currently, after strawberries.
UK buyers therefore need to be able to satisfy the growing numbers of UK shoppers who are buying blueberries more often on a year-round basis.
To that end, in April 2022 FPC participated in a webinar to explore the potential for Georgian blueberry exports to the UK. BerryWorld kindly joined to provide a comprehensive insight into the UK market.
In Georgia, there are a number of well-established and modern producer-exporters of blueberries. Below is a snapshot of six companies who are interested in developing trade links with UK buyers.
Agro Lane harvests blueberries by hand at the peak of ripeness from the end of May until the end of July.
The company is committed to bringing Georgia-grown blueberries to new customers across the globe. Already it counts on the Middle East, Russia and Malaysia as export partners. This year, Agro Lane has begun suppling the Netherlands and Poland.
As part of its expansion plans, Agro Lane is increasing its own blueberry farms alongside establishing a network of local growers. Its varieties comprise early, mid and late varieties, including: Bluetta, Duke, Patriot, Reka, Bluecrop, Blueray, Bluegold, Toro, Chandler, Legacy, and Gupton.
Agro Lane boasts a processing and coldstorage facility equipped with modern sorting, packing, storage and freezing equipment. The building has the capacity to process 350 tonnes of berries each season in either 125 gram (g) folding clamshells or 500g punnets. The company has held ISO 22000 certification since 2017.
Blueberry Farm is an exclusive grower of Sekoya® blueberry varieties in Georgia through a joint venture with Spain’s SanLucar that was established this year.
Blueberry Farm owns 27 blueberry plantations in the Guria region of the country. Its main varieties are Legacy, Bluecrop, Bluegold, Duke and New Hanover.
This year the company expects to harvest 150 tonnes of GlobalGAP-certified blueberries following its first 50-tonne crop in 2021.
Blueberry Farm owns a coldstorage facility with a 400-tonne capacity and modern sorting line. The firm is working on introducing the GlobalGAP GRASP standard which covers workers’ health, safety, and welfare.
Blue Garden anticipates its first harvest of 120-150 tonnes of blueberries in 2023. The company has 17ha of production, split between the Sweetheart and Legacy varieties.
Blue Garden is eager to support Georgia’s export potential. To facilitate this, during 2022 the company will establish a coldstorage facility, with the capacity to process 250 tonnes of blueberries, and a blueberry greenhouse. Next year, the business expects to introduce GlobalGAP and ISO 22000 standards.
Blue Garden was established in 2020 by shareholders with over 10 years of experience in the agro-processing industry, including a combined investment portfolio of over £3 million.
A family-owned company, Bluebird Farm benefits from 20ha of blueberry production, its own greenhouse and a modern cooling, sorting and packing facility, certified according to the Food Safety System Certification 22000.
Bluebird Farm prides itself on its high-quality berries which it attributes to the “excellent climate, pure water supply and on-site pollination” of the Samegrelo Region, in western Georgia.
Bluebird Farm processes 600-650 tonnes of Colibri, Legacy, Sweetheart, and Hannah’s Choice blueberries each season.
Blue Valley is eager to launch on the European Union market as it seeks to diversify its export reach. Located near the Black Sea, the group has been growing blueberries since 2016 and prides itself on its high-quality approach to growing and picking.
Over the last six years, Blue Valley has expanded both its planted area and varietal portfolio. This year, the first 10ha of a 45ha plot will be planted under tunnels. This will complement an existing 7ha of production under tunnels and 11ha of open field orchards.
Legacy, O’Neal and Alix Blue are the three main varieties under production. As it expands, the firm is testing an additional 15 varieties: New Hanover, Gupton, Star, Duke, Blue Ribbon, Top Shelf, Miss Alice Mae, and Suziblue. The plants are provided by Fall Creek (USA, Spain) Battistini Vivai (Italy) and Multibaies (France).
This year, Blue Valley intends to harvest 130 tonnes of blueberries between Week 22 and Week 27. The firm is certified according to both GlobalGAP and GlobalGAP GRASP.
Georgian Blue estimates that its blueberry production will reach 650 tonnes by 2025, up from a projected 180 tonnes this year.
The company operates across a total land area of 250ha, of which 36ha are planted with blueberries. The varieties under production are: Elizabeth, Toro, Bluecrop, Bluegold, Sunrise, Berkeley, Brigitta, Spartan, and Duke, as well as newer varieties: Miss Alice, Miss Jackie, Suziblue, Top Shelf, Blue Ribbon, and Camellia.
Georgian Blue benefits from its own cooling, sorting and packing infrastructure. This provides 120-tonne coldstorage capacity and the ability to pack in 125 gram (g), 250g, 300g or 500g clamshells. All pallets are wrapped in Xtend modified-atmosphere bags to preserve product quality and to prolong shelf-life.
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