Warm weather saw record £11.2m Berry Gardens strawberry sales week at end of June

Berry Gardens, one of the UK's largest soft and stone fruit production and marketing groups, has responded to crop flushes with innovative packing supported by the major retailers.

Brooks and Green at Fruit Focus yesterday - image: HW
Brooks and Green at Fruit Focus yesterday - image: HW

Speaking at Wednesday's Fruit Focus Berry Garden chairman Alastair Brooks said: "A flush like we had last month creates marketing challenges but we got on track quickly.

He added: "The warm weather also entices the British public to buy more strawberries, and we enjoyed a record week at the end of June with sales reaching £11.2 million."

Sales of Berry Gardens raspberries so far this year have also more than doubled compared to 2016. Chief executive Jacqui Green added: "Several retailers have supported our growers by introducing larger packs, for raspberries as for strawberries, that maintain fruit quality on the shelf."

Sales of sweet blackberries meanwhile are showing 15% year-on-year growth, with Berry Gardens now accounting for 47% of the market. Green said that with improved supply from overseas including glasshouse production in the Netherlands, these are becoming a more familiar sight, but that the shopping public "still need to be educated" in the category.

"Continuity of supply is crucial," she said. "People are still put off by the name, though they don't look or taste like the hedgerow berry."

Brooks added: "It's the most exciting challenge in my time - we have a mission to shift perceptions away from it being a culinary berry. It's geniunely different but we have work to do to get that across."

Green said blueberry sales now have 47% penetration but "people aren't snacking on them even though they are the most natural berry for that". To address this, the group has introduced snack packs targetted at car drivers. UK production continues to rise, to some 141 hectares, drawing new entrants into soft fruit growing, she added.

The most dramatic change since last year has been in cherries, with a more than doubling of yield after a "very difficult" 2016, she said. "As with all berries, fruit size and density has been really good this year" - which meant yields tended to exceed early-season expectations, she noted. She described Waitrose's recent British cherries TV advert as "fantastic".

Brooks added that thanks to varietal development and geographical spread, "we are trying to create one of the world's longest cherry seasons, from early June to the end of September, but it's a slow-burn project".

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