Morrisons' soft-fruit supplier Stuart Melton, the owner of H Melton and Son’s strawberry farm

Morrisons plans to release several new soft-fruit varieties over the next 12 months as it looks to invest in the category.

The retailer, which is currently outperforming its market share on soft fruit with a 12.9 per cent grip of total UK sales, says berries are one of its fastest-growing categories.

Morrisons' soft-fruit buying manager Glen Cooper told FPJ: 'We have seen continued growth over the past three years on our berry category due to our consistent offer and quality.

'Our customers are confident that when they pick up a pack of berries from Morrisons they will be excellent value and great quality and this will continue to drive sales in the future. There are some really great-tasting varieties coming through onto our shelves over the next 12 months so watch this space.'

Cooper said that the Bradford-based retailer saw a 50 per cent year-on-year increase in strawberry sales during the second week of Wimbledon, adding that success is down to the flexibility of its Scotland-based growing operation.

He explained: 'We are seeing consistently strong quality from our direct supply base. We work directly with growers from Perth in Scotland to the garden of Kent to source locally grown strawberries, picked fresh every day and delivered to our stores.'

According to Cooper, the big four supermarkets have a responsibility to promote the health benefits of soft fruit among children. In 2009, 4,000 young people in the UK needed hospital treatment for obesity-related problems, with obesity rates currently on the rise. Cooper praised the British Summer Fruits campaign for driving home the health benefits of berries.

Cooper added: 'The British Summer Fruits campaign and other similar bodies do a great job of keeping berries in the press and reminding the general public of their versatility and health benefits.

'I think it is commonly understood that berries are great for us but it is up to us as retailers to ensure that we are consistently delivering great quality so that parents in particular feed their children berries regularly from a young age, which in turn drives habit.'

KantarWorldpanelreports that 56.9 per cent of soft-fruit sales are currently driven by health-related reasons.