Berry Gardens:

UK: Soft fruit season stresses

"This year the British soft fruit season has been the most volatile that I can ever recall," reported Nicholas Marston, Managing Director of Berry Gardens Ltd, at Fruit Focus, the fruit industry's showcase event held on Wednesday, 25th July, at East Malling Research, Kent.

"The weather," he continued, "has been very challenging to our growers and the marketing of their fruit. The season has run around two weeks later than 2011 and an abundance of berries in recent weeks coupled with low consumer demand caused by the worse summer weather on record has resulted in substantial deflation of selling prices and net returns."

According to Mr Marston, the latest Kantar Worldpanel data shows that the UK strawberry market grew modestly in the past year: 2.4% by value and 4.4% by volume1 but in the past four weeks2 sales values fell for the first time in many years, by 4.7%, whilst the volume sold increased by 6% over the same period in 2011. He commented, "Whilst this scenario has impacted on growers' returns consumers have had excellent value, which has resulted in volume demand being better than might otherwise have been the case ."

Mr Marston thanked Berry Gardens' retail customers who, he said, had supported keen retail price points with significant advertising expenditure, good levels of exposure in store and deployment of many promotional mechanics, including twin-packs, multi-buy deals and free pots of cream to help maximise sales in difficult conditions.

"From a grower's perspective, our crops and businesses have most definitely been saved by the deployment of polytunnels this year", said Paul Kelsey, Chairman, "and where these have not been in place, for whatever reason, significant crop losses and quality issues have occurred."

He continued, "Here in Kent we have had nearly one third more rainfall and 20% fewer sunshine hours3 than 2011. Although tunnels have kept the worst of the rain off our crops, managing the much higher relative humidity levels inside has been challenging and spoilage disease pressures have been much higher than normal. However, our pickers have been marvellous and, even though the conditions on farms have been difficult, we have managed to make the most of our crops with their help."

In order to help move the excess volumes of fruit this year Berry Gardens has exported more than it has historically.

"So far this year we have sent strawberries to wholesale markets in Paris, Germany, Holland and Spain, and raspberries have been exported in Driscoll branded packaging to Holland," said Mr Marston. "We will shortly begin exporting everbearing strawberries to Scandinavia, which is a new development for us. Although the UK has not historically been an exporter of fresh soft fruit, with our climate, ability of our growers and our protected cropping systems, this may well become a more planned business in its own right in future years."

In summing up the season to date, Mr Marston expressed strong confidence that Berry Gardens and its growers will continue to move forward. "Although the first half of the season has been difficult, in spite of these very adverse conditions we have identified several opportunities for the future, which we are developing."

Mr Kelsey concluded by saying, "We are pleased that we remain the marketing desk of choice for growers who are attracted by our low cost, comprehensive offer; for example, we welcome Humber Growers as full members who have joined Berry Gardens Growers Ltd recently."

For more information:
Darren Laws
ZestST
Tel: +44 (0)1634 672874
Mob: +44 (0)7958 304375
darren.laws@thinkzest.com

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