Buyers urged to reconsider 'undervalued' blackcurrants

British blackcurrants are a superfood with potential to perform well outside their traditional market in the beverages industry, according to leading industry figures.

Herefordshire soft fruit grower and International Blackcurrant Association regional vice-president Anthony Snell described blackcurrants as "an amazing, undervalued fruit".

But he pointed out: "The British market has been static for a long time, at 10,000-12,000 tonnes a year. We have 3,000-5,000 tonnes coming in from eastern Europe to the prepared foods market. Is provenance important to this market? "

He added: "Certainly the big users know they can get better traceability here, and we have the best food safety record anywhere."

While the fresh market is "underdeveloped", he added: "You can snack on blueberries, but blackcurrants are a bit sharp. We have to develop varieties that are equivalent to blueberries or raspberries, and that's a long way off."

Professor Derek Stewart of the James Hutton Institute, where the most recent advances in blackcurrant breeding have been made, said in the meantime the sector should focus on the fruit's many health benefits.

"I am convinced that blackcurrants can slow down arteriosclerosis as they open up your arteries," he said. "But people don't want to hear about things that will prevent disease - they want cures."

He added that breeders "can do more to improve the health benefits given the variation in wild material" and said some claims for the fruit's main rival, the "tasteless" blueberry, are false: "In the USA, they have had to retract health claims."

According to Herefordshire grower and Blackcurrant Foundation chair Jo Hilditch, the situation is improving. "Ribena used to be the only purchaser," she said. "Now others are using our messaging."

Hilditch brews cassis, selling 10,000 bottles a year through independent retailers. "We need to find more niches like this," she said.

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