Blackberries and cherries have huge growth potential and are set to be the next big thing in the soft-fruit industry, according to leading supplier Berry Gardens.
Speaking at Fruit Focus today, Berry Gardens chairman Alastair Brooks said new segmentation in the blackberry market, with the introduction of sweet-eating fruit alongside traditional varieties, had the potential to transform sales. Varieties such as Karaka Black, Driscoll’s King George and Carmel were leading the charge, he added.
“Blackberries is the most exciting area of soft fruit because sweet-eating fruit is completely new in the UK,” said Brooks. “Soon we will have a sweet-eating offer throughout the year. If it’s marketed right there is a large opportunity.”
Brooks pointed out that in the US blackberries is as big a category as raspberries, and UK growers are planting extensively in the hope of seeing similar success here. “Over the next few years we will be developing our offer to retailers as the sweet-eating category continues to grow and new sweet varieties such as Driscoll’s Victoria come into production,” he added.
There is a similarly upbeat picture on cherries, which Berry Gardens managing director Nick Marston predicted would be the “next strawberries” in terms of category growth.
Marston recalled the phenomenal growth of strawberries once the fruit moved from a short-season crop to one with large-scale production and a long season, and predicted a similar future for cherries. “If you have a good-sized punnet at a reasonable retail price it’ll sell. It’ll need a retailer to get its head around it and take a chance with a lower [shelf] price and it’ll really take off.”
On the back of the earliest cherry season ever Marston said there was potential to extend the season from June to the end of September. Brix levels this season have been above average at a minimum of 16, with 18-20 not unusual due to the high levels of sunlight. Berry Gardens expects to deliver around 950 tonnes of UK cherries to supermarkets this season.
On other lines, UK blueberries are forecast to have the longest season ever this year on the back of significant grower investment, while the strawberry and raspberry seasons both started early, with strong sales reported.