Two English top-fruit producer organisations have merged, creating a 16-member group spanning Kent, Hampshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.
Fruit Growers Alliance (FGA) and Fruitlink (Wisbech), collectively produce more than 11,000 tonnes of apples and pears per year, with an annual turnover of more than £8m.
The group will retain the Fruit Growers Alliance name and will be chaired by former Sherwood Produce managing director Hugh Baker. Explaining the rationale for the merger, he said: "By having a long-term strategy, growers can plan investment in new orchards, state-of-the-art equipment and cold storage in order to continue high levels of production while minimising their impact on the environment."
Grower and FGA founder member James Smith added: "We aim to improve returns to fruit growers by creating a larger presence in the UK fresh-produce market and gaining efficiencies alongside our supply chain partners. Equipment and labour can be shared to reduce costs, and we provide a support network to help face the challenges of an ever-changing marketplace."
Fruitlink director John Portass described the move as "a natural progression", adding: "Our close association with Empire World Trade has been vital in bringing new offers to market including a premium Galaxy Gala and new varieties like Opal and Evelina."
The group expects to seek European funding for "several more" storage facilities, it said in a statement.
Eight grower groups in France and Belgium have together formed Freshcoop, Europe's first cross-border association of producer organisations, to better coordinate production. However, grower groups in the Spanish province of Almeria declined to join.