Importing fresh produce such as asparagus strengthens demand for UK-grown produce when in season, according to a senior figure at Britain's largest retailer.
Tesco group technical director Tim Smith told a supplier conference: "We sell more British asparagus than anyone else and customer demand is now greater than the UK supply, so when we run out we buy it from South America because customers want asparagus."
While Tesco could choose not to import out-of-season asparagus "that wouldn't help the customer who wants to buy it in the weeks it's not there, and it wouldn't help UK growers either", he said.
Smith explained that complementary imports create more demand for British produce when in season. "Our growers then have the confidence to invest in that British asparagus crop and during the next year we know we will sell more UK asparagus because demand will have gone up," he said. "Everyone is a winner."
He added that the same also applies to crops such as mushrooms and curly kale, where Tesco has made long-term commitments to UK suppliers but also continued to source overseas, thereby "continuing to keep that demand up so that the product doesn't stay seasonal".
Peru Crop promotion
Asparagus was one of the crops that Peru chose to promote to the UK market at last week's London Produce Show. Together with blueberries it was the fastest-growing fresh export to the UK last year, rising 75 per cent to just over £30m "thanks to high consumer demand and Peru's complementary season to local UK production", the Peru Trade & Investment Office said.