"I expect to see more rationalisation and collaboration in the supply base," he said. "You want fewer, larger marketing organisations because that puts you in a better negotiating position. When growers try going solo, retailers can sniff their weakness and seize on it."
Hughes, who is on the board of Berry Gardens, was answering a question from Anthony Snell, a member of the grower-owned soft-fruit supplier and chairman of the West Midlands NFU horticulture board.
Snell said afterwards: "Consolidation is the biggest challenge, especially in apples. Soft fruit is more aligned to the market. We mustn’t have too many people supplying the supermarkets individually. It’s in the supermarkets’ interest to expand their supply base, but in our interest to restrict it."
He continued: "If you can produce 99 per cent of what the market needs, you get the best possible prices. If you produce 110 per cent, your prices will be 15-20 per cent lower. We must get supply and demand in line, but lack of collaboration is an issue."
English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Bar-low added: "From the producers’ point of view, it would beneficial to have just one marketing desk, but there’s no chance whatever of that happening."