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James Hutton Institute research

Identifying the ideal blueberry

Research at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) is being adapted to encompass changes in consumer trends, such as the frequency of visits to supermarkets and growing demands for fruit that is firm and will keep for longer at home.

JHI blueberry breeder Dr Susan McCallum claims the latest feedback from retailers is that they are prepared to compromise on fruit size and will accept smaller berries – but long shelf life is now non-negotiable. She is using a research tool from Microsoft that allows her team to reassess data gathered since JHI’s blueberry breeding programme began in 2017, to weigh up particular traits such as fruit firmness to consider selections that are performing consistently well.

McCallum: “Last year we had some amazing big and nice tasting fruit, but the firmness wasn’t there – and this year we know we need to be adaptive.”

The JHI breeding programme is also focusing on sensory perception in a bid to predict how well consumers will like new fruit selections and, so far, 1,600 samples have been taken from their own and supermarket selections to analyse the Brix – acid ratio and flavour.

Thecourier.co.uk quoted McCallum as saying: “Depending on where the grower is, some take the harvest at 60% blue and others at 80% blue. We’re trying to develop a model to be able to say consistently if you wait until fruit is at least 70%-80% or even 90% blue, you will get the best quality and flavour which will enable you to get the best price at the supermarkets.”

UK blueberry production was valued at £400 million last year and since then the sector has grown by more than 10%. While domestic demand is high, Dr McCallum believes there is also huge scope for British blueberry exports.

"Our ultimate objective is to reach a point where our produce is not just carbon-zero, but carbon-negative," said Ben Bardsley, managing director of Bardsley England. "This is a long-term strategy that requires meticulous attention to detail at every level and we are confident that ENGIE is the right partner for this mission."


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