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Shortage of blueberries hits grocers and consumers — here's what you need to know

These patterns go beyond one season or one year.

These patterns go beyond one season or one year.

Photo Credit: iStock

Increasingly extreme weather events are wreaking havoc around the globe.

The most devastating effects are loss of life and property, but threats to the world food supply are concerning as well. The skyrocketing cost of blueberries is just one example.

The tasty fruit has become a key crop in Peru, as the South American nation went from zero exports a dozen years ago to being the international top dog in 2022, Bloomberg reported. In 2023, however, El Niño and associated rising temperatures reduced its yield by half.

Prices in the United States reached $6 per pound — a 60% increase — because it had imported one-third of Peru's 273,000-ton haul, worth $1.35 billion, in 2022. The shortage affected customers in the United Kingdom, China, and other places since European suppliers couldn't fill the void.

"El Niño has hit the world's No. 1 exporter hard," Howard Chua-Eoan of Bloomberg wrote in January. "And even if its effects are tempered this year, the continuing threat of climate change could hold Peru from the peaks it's enjoyed for the last four or five years."

It could also cost the industry 135,000 jobs.

Chile's blueberry exports could be in trouble too, but producers in other countries, including Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, and areas in Central Asia, might get a boost. That's the nature of the problem.

Similar issues have affected olive farmers everywhere, as dry but also too-wet weather hurt crops in Spain and California.

And as with El Niño, these weather patterns go beyond one season or one year. Three straight summers of high heat crushed tomato production, spiking ketchup prices.

Another issue is profiteering. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hobbled global supply chains, prices have risen — but so have corporate profits. Grocers have taken advantage of the higher prices by pushing them even higher.

In March, The Hill reported that a Federal Trade Commission report called out "margin expansion as a primary driver of recent price increases, citing dynamics in the increasingly concentrated grocery sector."

Before the pandemic, retail grocery revenues reached a high point of 5.6% above costs in 2015. Since then, revenues reached 6% above costs in 2021 and 7% in 2023. This casts "doubt on the assertions of some companies that rising prices at the grocery store are the result of retailers' own rising costs," per the FTC.

"Some firms seem to have used rising costs as an opportunity to further hike prices to increase their profits, and profits remain elevated even as supply chain pressures have eased," the FTC stated, according to The Hill. "Larger retailers and wholesalers with considerable leverage over their suppliers were able to take more aggressive action to protect themselves."

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