Andrew Fearne

Andrew Fearne

Kent Business School’s Professor Andrew Fearne told the UK asparagus industry that it is in danger of commoditising its product if it bows down to low prices by increasing yields.

Speaking at the eighth Euro Asper in Coventry last week, the professor of food marketing and supply chain management centre for value chain research said: “In other parts of the world, asparagus is just another vegetable. We must not fall into that trap in the UK. We must not let it become a commodity by growing production scale and becoming poor as a result.”

Fearne argued that through dunnhumby research, it has been proven that people in particular areas of the country and certain demographic groups are big consumers of asparagus, and that to sustain the product’s premium and increase sales, those groups need to be specifically targeted.

“Producers need to stop making assumptions about their target audience and become more informed,” he continued. “There is not a grower in the country that cannot find out where their product is going.

“The majority of producers do not interact with consumers. Asparagus retail buyers are the gatekeepers to what you do in the marketplace and many of them don’t understand what they buy. They are concentrating on discounting to reduce wastage and as a result, ignoring what the consumer wants.”

Fearne said that the challenge growers are facing is a fragmenting market. “People buy asparagus for different reasons - it is for cut cost? No, because they don’t want a lower price; they want answers... Asparagus is a special purchasing mission in this country - it won’t matter how much it is.”