Chris White

A week ago last Friday, walking the floor of Shanghai’s Huizhan market, you wouldn’t have guessed that things in China are supposed to be slowing down. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Chinese fresh produce demand seems on some inexorable growth path, not just because of the country’s astonishing appetite for imported fruits and vegetables which Beijing now encourages, but also because of the continued expansion of new areas of this huge country, such as in the mega-cities of Chongqing and Chengdu in China’s western interior.

British Airways now flies direct to Chengdu from Heathrow, so you can come see for yourself at Fresh Produce Forum China, the new China conference that FPJ’s sister magazine Asiafruit is co-organising in Chengdu at the end of May.

Demand for fresh fruit and vegetables in China and right across Asia is shifting the focus of global suppliers away from markets like ours. The change gathers pace each and every year. It means that nowadays the UK doesn’t always have first dibs for the cream of the crop. The growth of Asia begs the question of how best to ensure the finest produce from around the world comes to these shores. And, while the market here demands ever more local produce, how should we shore up relationships with fresh fruit and vegetable growers here at home?

The new price market in Britain – it’s all about 29p – is having a number of consequences. Sure, we all know that it’s eroding the position of the established majors against the insurgent discounters. But it’s also making British growers so incredibly competitive so that with the ongoing weakening of sterling it’s no surprise there are whispers of interest in exports to the EU and further afield. In Britain, many suppliers haven’t talked about exports in donkey’s years, and this time it’s being driven by a desire to find better paying markets overseas. Brand Britain has a fantastic reputation abroad, and it’s high time we started to leverage the great in British food.

So isn’t it also high time that one of the majors here at home made moves to tie in the best of their production base even more securely? Tesco’s answer – Nightingale Farms, Redmere Farms, Rosedene Farms, and so on – seems to me to be a missed opportunity. The retailer has attracted criticism from consumers and industry media alike for presenting consumers with fake farms, or devaluing the country of origin brand with British-sounding farm names but no promise of British produce.

When is someone going to be brave enough to really align with growers to develop something that brings to British shoppers what they really seem to crave? When is somebody going to provide that real point of difference on the high street? The current response seems all Chinese to me.