Marston highlights British cherry potential

Potential for more UK-grown 'lesser' small fruits pointed out by Berry Gardens managing director at Fruit Focus show.

Berry Gardens: chair Brooks (left) and managing director Marston
Berry Gardens: chair Brooks (left) and managing director Marston

Cherries "will be the new strawberries", Berry Gardens managing director Nicholas Marston predicted at last month's Fruit Focus held at East Malling in Kent.

"Right now they are put in with stone fruit - it needs a retailer to make that bold move of accepting lower margins in exchange for higher velocity of sales."

The soft-fruit grower group's cherry volumes to date stand at four times last year's figure, with high Brix levels of up to 20, he added. "Plantings are quite substantial as far north as Montrose and as high up as Hergest Ridge thanks to heavy steel-framed polytunnels, giving us a season running from early June to September.

"We can grow blueberries from Essex to Angus, giving us a 500-mile spread and one of the longest seasons in the world, running from May to October," he said, adding that the group's new blueberry snack packs "have been successfully listed".

Blackberries are another area where Berry Gardens is "planting up substantially", said Marston. "Driscolls is turning out high-quality eating varieties like King George and Victoria, and supermarkets now distinguish between these and the traditional varieties."

Berry Gardens chairman and Kent grower Alastair Brooks said: "It's the most exciting area of soft fruit. Sweet eating blackberries are effectively a new market. They have much lower market penetration than raspberries and blueberries, yet in the USA blackberries sell in similar volumes to raspberries."

Sales of raspberries, meanwhile, are up 80 per cent compared with the same time last year, said Marston. "We forecast final volumes will be up 20 per cent, with values similar to last year." He added that for raspberries, unlike strawberries, the frozen market provides "a great safety valve" should a surplus arise.

Brooks added: "Primocanes are looking excellent. We are at first picking now." He described early primocane variety RD345 as "a big improvement on Cardinal".

Strawberry season Return on investments

Berry Gardens managing director Nicholas Marston said the strawberry season "started three weeks earlier and by the start of Wimbledon we had sold twice as many. Volumes are 16.5 per cent up on this time last year, with supply and demand well aligned. Growers can see a return on the substantial investments they've been making."

Chairman Alastair Brooks said: "With Driscoll's and East Malling bringing out promising varieties, we're in a good position to lift the market. Supermarkets are always challenging us and we are meeting those challenges."

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