Challenge issued for growers to reverse decline in British tomatoes' market share

NFU chief horticultural adviser Hayley Campbell-Gibbons has challenged tomato growers to reverse the declining market share of British tomatoes.

Image: HW
Image: HW

Tomatoes were one of the "endangered crops" identified in the NFU's recent Catalyst for Change report, prepared by Campbell-Gibbons, being among those whose market share has dropped 20 per cent or more within a decade.

Latest Defra figures show that decline continued last year, she told the Tomato Growers Association (TGA) conference last month, slipping from 20 to 18 per cent even as demand increased.

"But what is to stop us getting up to 35 per cent?" she asked, suggesting that the answer would be around £200m of investment.

She added: "There is reluctance in the industry to have contracts because they tie you in. But in the dairy world, a contract is critical to having a stable relationship with the customer. Annual renegotiation of contracts is also not something bank managers want to see. They also want to know about rebates and complaint charges - all the stuff that is never written down or much talked about."

Prices too, she said, "are negotiated week-by-week, while promotions tend to be unplanned and funded by the grower. They are also getting longer, deeper and more frequent. You may never get your anticipated price. But you need to be making enough to reinvest in facilities down the line."

But solutions to each of these problems - fiveto ten-year contracts underwriting investment, "aligned business objectives" through the supply chain, financial transparency, commitments to purchase, production-led promotions - "are within our grasp", she argued. "It's in your customers' interests for you to be doing OK."

TGA chairman Nigel Bartle said the 18 per cent figure is "a moot point", but added: "It's not going up." On barriers to expansion, he said: "Traditional glasshouse areas are struggling to get planning permission. We don't want to cover the country in glass but we do need more than we have."

He added that the TGA "has to work in unison" with the NFU, saying: "They punch higher than we do."

Wight Salads director Peter Moug and Melrow Salads owner Adrian Williams were elected to the TGA board at its AGM. Melrow's former development executive Bernard Sparkes stepped down from the board and was presented with a leaving gift at the conference.

Tomato booklet

The Tomato Growers Association (TGA) has launched a booklet called British Tomatoes: A Great British Love Affair.

It features an explanation of different tomato types, serving suggestions and advice from individual growers. "It gives a human face to the industry," said TGA chairman Nigel Bartle.

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