African Blue broadens supply

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Costa’s African Blue business has been operating in Morocco since 2007 and now has circa 465 hectares of farms coming from both own farms and third-party growers.

In a strategic move to broaden African Blue’s market reach and extend seasonal supply of blueberries to its customer base, African Blue has licensed Costa varieties to growers within Southeast Africa (South Africa and Zimbabwe and Zambia) to create a counter-seasonal supply of blueberries to African Blue, Morocco.

One of these licenced projects is managed under a Zimbabwe based company Direct from Source, in which 11 growers are aggregated to supply fruit to be marketed by African Blue to its Asian and European customers.

Located close to the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare – the growers, through Direct from Source, are responsible for around 15% of the total annual African Blue sales volume.

Costa’s licenced growers were among some of the first blueberry growers in the region, with the first plantings in 2018. This grower group now has farms covering over 300 hectares, with currently adopted varieties of Kirra, Akala, Corindi Verdure and Arana.  Arana is shaping up as grower favourite with capacity to service the Asian market with a premium product and higher price returns.

The farming locations in Zimbabwe have a similar climate and latitude to Far North Queensland, Australia (where Costa has a significant blueberry operation geared towards early season production).

For this reason, there are lot of opportunities that stem from blueberry variety development from the Costa Variety Improvement Program (FNQ), with a high chance that varieties developed from this low latitude program will be high performers for Zimbabwe in the future.  In the next three years the farmers will progressively take up some of the new Costa varieties: Breeze, Delight, Eterna  and Cascade.

Each of the farms has its own pack shed, and fruit is sent to market destinations via either air or sea freight logistics.

Berry International Horticultural Manager Greg Murdoch said the aim was to have fruit from this region in the period from August to October, following on from the Moroccan growing season which ends in June.

“The international blueberry market price increases around August to September and our main competition comes from Peru.  We focus on supplying quality, premium fruit and we aim to maintain very good quality control,” Greg said.

Deon Kirstein, who previously worked in the berry industry in Coffs Harbour, is now based in Zimbabwe and manages the grower support function in that region.