He added that there is also "a massive opportunity" to increase sales to less-frequent buyers of carrots in the rest of the year. "There are 8.4 million households who make up just eight per cent of the market. If you could get them to buy just once more, that would be worth £4.9m."
In all, carrots are bought by 89 per cent of households (a figure known as the market penetration) and they buy them on average 18 times a year, a figure that has not increased over recent years. "Unlike produce as a whole, it's cheaper to buy carrots pre-packed, so you aren't adding value here," Cowan explained. Only seven per cent of fresh carrots are bought prepared, the rest whole, he added, and put the gross volume of sales at 347,000 tonnes, worth £262m.
Bejo Seeds crop research manager Peter Dekker told delegates at the conference: "We are working on cavity spot resistance. It's the main disease we have to get under control for the UK market." The Dutch breeder's recently launched Norfolk variety has shown greater resistance in trials, he said, adding that Bejo also anticipates launching a red carrot "in 2017-18".
The conference concluded with the presentation of two awards. The inaugural John Birkenshaw Most Innovative Product Award was won by Syngenta's new carrot fungicide Reflect. The product incorporates a new active ingredient, isopyrazam, that enhances plant green leaf health and controls a broad spectrum of diseases.
The John Birkenshaw Award for Best Variety, determined by the British Carrot Growers Association (BCGA) at its Variety Day last month, went to the smooth-skinned maincrop nantes variety Priam from Clause UK, now part of Hazera.
Both awards are made in memory of John Birkenshaw, a successful agronomist and crop researcher with ADAS and BCGA technical secretary and treasurer for many years, who passed away last year.