European exports up at Berry Gardens

Greater volume of soft fruit exported to the continent makes up for oversupply in home market.

Berry Gardens has succeeded in exporting more soft fruit than usual to the continent, making up for oversupply in the home market and the first dip in sales in recent times, according to chief executive Nicholas Marston.

"So far this year we have sent strawberries to wholesale markets in Paris, Germany, Holland and Spain, and Driscoll raspberries to Holland, and we will shortly begin exporting everbearing strawberries to Scandinavia," said Marston.

He added: "With our climate, the ability of our growers and our protected cropping systems, exporting may well become a more planned business in its own right in future years."

Describing the UK soft-fruit season as "the most volatile that I can ever recall," he explained: "The season has run around two weeks later than 2011 and an abundance of berries in recent weeks coupled with low consumer demand caused by the worst summer weather on record has resulted in substantial deflation of selling prices and net returns."

The weather has also been a challenge for growers, chairman Paul Kelsey added. "Where polytunnels have not been in place, significant crop losses and quality issues have occurred."

Even under plastic, he said: "Managing the much higher relative humidity levels inside has been challenging and spoilage disease pressures have been much higher than normal."

Marston added that Berry Gardens will shortly break ground on a £1.3m expansion of its site in Linton, Kent, which will bring additional cold storage, a lorry park and improved staff facilities.

Showcase International collaboration

Berry Gardens used last month's Fruit Focus event to showcase the fruit of its collaboration with international soft-fruit breeding and licensing company Driscoll's.

Chairman Paul Kelsey said the June-bearing Driscoll's Diamond strawberry was one of "several new selections being introduced this year".

Driscoll's set up a subsidiary company, Driscoll's Genetics, five years ago at East Malling, which hosts Fruit Focus.

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