Raspberries face a continuing decline in market share in the absence of concerted action, Raspberry Breeding Consortium chairman Stuart Stubbins warned an industry seminar at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) last month.
"Raspberries have slipped into third place behind blueberries in the berry category," he said. "They are bought by only a third of the population, which is just half the market penetration of strawberries, and the frequency of purchase is less than seven, compared with 11 for strawberries," he added.
Stubbins, a former fruit buyer for Marks & Spencer and now an industry consultant, claimed a lack of varietal development is holding back the UK raspberry market. "They need to be bigger, sweeter, juicier and more flavourful, more visually appealing, have better shelf life and deliver better value to the consumer," he said.
"We need a replacement for Glen Ample, but the consortium already has a potential replacement for Octavia," he went on, but urged the industry to "take a few risks and get new varieties to market more quickly".
He laid down the challenge: "Blueberries will continue to make progress. Can you get raspberries back up to number two? It's up to you."
Rex Brennan, leader of JHI's soft-fruit breeding group, responded: "In the short term, no we can't. Blueberries have longer shelf life and well-publicised health benefits. It will be a tough fight."
Latest varieties: Sweet and high-yielding
Experimental early-mid season floricane variety 0485K-1 combines high yield and attractive finish, Mylnefield Research Services fruit breeder Nikki Jennings told the event.
In addition, genetic screening has ensured tolerance of cane Botrytis and spur blight. "It is being trialled on farms and is proving very popular," she said.
Meanwhile, the similarly sweet and high-yielding James Hutton Institute-bred Glen Fyne has been listed by Sainsbury's this year, Jennings added.
While the raspberry-growing area for fresh sales in particular is increasing, it is still well below the figure of 20 years ago.
Annual berry sales (year ending 9 June 2013)
A 16.5 per cent rise in sales of blueberries has taken them above raspberries, which fell 1.4 per cent over the same period.