Supermarkets stock new strawberry types

East Malling Research's (EMR) strawberry breeding programme has enjoyed a vintage year that saw six of its varieties accepted by some of the UK's biggest supermarkets.

June-bearers Elegance, Fenella, Cupid, Sweetheart and EM1119, together with everbearer Finesse, have been added to the list of approved varieties by supermarkets such as Asda and Sainsbury's.

Meiosis Funders Group and soft fruit expert Sarah Troop helped the varieties gain approval by trialling them commercially for two years. The group believes that the fruits' uptake by the supermarkets signifies a new era for British strawberry breeding and production.

It said in a statement: "The wide acceptance of these varieties represents a further significant erosion of the dominant position that (Dutch-bred) Elsanta has occupied for the past 20 years and comes as a welcome reward for the Meiosis Funders Group, which co-financed the EMR programme throughout the Elsanta era."

Growers this year started to produce some of the new varieties for the multiples as they start to introduce them to consumers. David McGuffie of New Farm Produce supplied Finesse to Sainsbury's, growing the new everbearer for the first time this year. A key features is its high yield of class 1 fruit. McGuffie said: "Finesse is a variety that we shall be growing much more of in the future."

Herefordshire-based grower Neil Cockburn, who grows strawberries for Tesco & Asda, planted Fenella for the first time this year and was impressed with how well the plants established themselves on second-hand beds where Verticillium wilt had been a major problem.

He said: "Fenella was planted in a field where wilt levels are historically high but they established and yielded well this year." He added that finding a variety with good wilt tolerance that has been accepted by the supermarkets meant that he can reuse the beds, which "is a big advantage on our land that's grown strawberries for many years".

Fenella showed good wilt and crown rot tolerance in trials at EMR. Cockburn is considering delayed cropping with deep straw or black on white polythene because Fenella has a later season than Elsanta. His 2011 cropping will include at least 30 per cent Fenella.

Meanwhile, Elegance plants established well this season on an outdoor, untreated, raised bed site in Staffordshire. The fruit produced was entered in the National Fruit Show in Detling, Kent, and won the Best Soft Fruit Exhibit award.

The variety is well-known for its potential in 60-day cropping because its plants throw trusses at the same rate as Elsanta but over a longer period of time, so it has higher truss numbers and yields. It was also grown at New Farm Produce.

Cupid, a late-season variety with good disease tolerance to wilt, crown rot, blackspot and mildew, has been accepted by Asda this year and is due to be sampled to more supermarkets next season. The mid season Sweetheart is also on Asda's list.

EM1119, the earliest of the new varieties - it peaked a week earlier than Elsanta - is due to be named and launched next year but it has already been approved by Asda.

- for more fruit news


The varieties have been bred by EMR's strawberry breeding programme, led by Dr David Simpson and Adam Whitehouse, to give growers a season-long range of alternatives with good fruit quality and yields and improved resistance to soil-borne diseases.

They carry no exclusive licence arrangements and so are available for all growers to use. They have been trialled as waiting bed and tray plants for 60-day cropping and in a range of growing systems, including open fields, raised beds and substrate production under glass.

Fruit yield, size, shape, colour and shelf life are all monitored and tastings carried out before the best-performing varieties are presented to the supermarkets for their approval.

This process normally takes two seasons, during which fruit samples are sent to the supermarkets on a weekly basis throughout the season for the leading multiples to attract buyers' attention.

Success at this stage then leads on to further sampling by a taste panel, which will approve a new variety only if it offers an improvement over what is currently on the shelf.

Variety Approvals by Supermarkets
Variety Tesco Sainsbury's Asda Co-operative
Cupid P
Elegance P P P P
EM1119 P
Fenella P P P
Finesse P P P
Sweetheart P

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