Blackberries could become the next big thing – provided a rebranded offer helps reconnect shoppers with the category.
That is the view of Berry Gardens, which is repositioning the niche fruit at Sweet Blackberries in an attempt to underline their modern taste profile and bring in consumers who associate the fruit with the tart alternatives that they pick in hedgerows.
Speaking at their annual media briefing at Fruit Focus this week, Berry Gardens reported that the blackberry category is growing by over 15 per cent in volume year on year, driven by sweeter options such as Dricoll’s Victoria. The Kent-based grower has upped its share of UK blackberry sales from 40 to 47 per cent in the past year.
“Several of our growers have introduced glasshouse production of Driscoll’s Victoria and this year will be able to maintain good quality supply until late autumn,” said chairman Alastair Brooks. “We have also been running a specific PR campaign promoting Driscoll’s Victoria, which includes social media, a recently introduced website and recipes developed by chef and food journalist Rosie Birkett.”
The product also won best variety at the Grower of the Year Awards and has been showcased at the Taste of London festival, with punnets handed out to consumers to help them get to know the sweeter flavour.
Elsewhere, new Berry Gardens chief executive Jacqui Green reported on an early start for soft fruit, with the first pick of strawberries on 28 February. Warm weather has made life difficult in recent weeks, but investments in chilling technology helped the industry towards a record week of £11.2m sales in June.
Green said Berry Gardens growers are increasing plantings of new premium everbearers Driscoll’s Zara and Katrina, as well as Junebearers Julietta and Olivia. “The retailers have positively introduced tiering in the soft-fruit category, which has supported the increased availability of the premium varieties but also helps manage potential waste with the perfectly imperfect ranges,” she added.
There was a positive picture on raspberries, where Green said Berry Gardens has increased its share of UK sales from 32 per cent to 45 per cent in the past year, having doubled output to 1,948 tonnes.
The blueberry hectarage is also up 20 per cent to 141ha, driven by new varieties such as Driscoll’s Sweet Jane, Jolene and Barbara Ann.
And cherry volumes have been helped by a cold winter followed by ideal conditions during blossom and pollination, with Berry Gardens expecting a sizeable increase in tonnage, up 141 per cent to 2,855 tonnes. An industry-wide PR campaign is also giving the sector a push, said Green.