Berry Gardens News

All the latest from us and our farmers

2018 Season and Business Development

The berry category continues to grow at an enviable rate compared to the rest of the fruit market.  According to Kantar1 the category grew 7.6% in value and 3.7% in volume over the last 52 weeks compared to just 3.44% value growth across the total fruit market and a decline in volume of -1.70%.

“Led by the cooperative and aided by the EU Fruit and Vegetable regime, our members have continued to invest in season extension through sustainably heated glass and permanent poly structures, says Alastair Brooks Chairman of Berry Gardens. At the same time members continue to make huge investments in improving labour productivity, through better varieties, plant types and capital investments including table tops and other advanced production systems. This coupled with improved irrigation systems and rain water capture systems has gone a long way to helping maintaining growth in an otherwise turbulent 2018 both from weather and political perspective. While growers are skilled at dealing with unpredictable weather events, our major concern has to be access to a highly skilled and motivated seasonal work force, which has been the backbone of our industry’s success over the last two decades and without which we will shrivel and die”.

“Although a later strawberry season, we have seen consecutive peak weeks in June with a record 3,458 tonnes sold over a two week period.  With Wimbledon moving later the awareness and demand for British strawberries (even with the World Cup), has not abated, adds Jacqui Green, Berry Gardens CEO.  The warm weather has increased availability and we have been able to manage supply with our customers by flexing pack sizes.  According to British Summer Fruit2 figures our share of the market, during June was 32.3% an increase of 3.8% year on year.  Growth is being fueled by the increased availability of better eating varieties.  Over the next few years we will have additional production of Driscoll’s® Katrina™, a great eating everbearer with good yields.   In addition, two new varieties from the East Malling Breeding Consortium, Malling Allure and Champion also look promising.  We continue to promote our premium strawberries with three varieties, Driscoll’s® Jubilee, Elizabeth™ and increased availability this year of Zara™”.  Finally, just over a month ago, Boxford Farm were awarded soft fruit grower of the year at the inaugural Horticulture Week Business Awards”.

Raspberry tunnelled production has also been delayed, however crops in heated glasshouses have been two weeks earlier this year with picking starting at the beginning of April.  The raspberry category has grown 11.56% over the last year in volume and just under 10% in value according to Kantar1, in the last 4 weeks3 alone the volume year on year has increased by 23% and value by 17.37%.    Growth is attributable to the better eating varieties such as Driscoll’s® Maravilla™ being available for longer and also the convenience of raspberries as a healthy snack.   According to Nutritionist Emma Derbyshire, who works with British Summer Fruits, “Raspberries are a powerful source of nutrients including vitamin C, manganese, dietary fibre and polyphenols which are thought to have potent antioxidant properties.  There is a growing body of evidence4 that raspberries could have a valuable role to play in helping to maintain health, including being part of a heart healthy diet”.  Eating raspberries has been linked to reducing heart disease, maintaining healthy blood cholesterol levels and contributing to a strong immune system.  Their mechanisms are in need of further study but it is thought that their consumption may help to maintain or re-establish “normal” cellular or tissue function.

Jacqui continues “Blackberries have also started earlier this year, predominately due to Driscoll’s® Victoria™ glasshouse production.  Our blackberry tonnage has more than doubled in just three years since 2015 (1,115 tonnes in 2017 vs 520 tonnes in 2015).  Across the category Kantar1 reports volume growth year on year as 17% with penetration of the market up over 1% to 13.9%.  British Summer Fruits reports Berry Gardens market share has increased from 32.9% to 35.5%.

This is second year of our PR campaign specifically promoting sweet blackberries and we have been working closely with bloggers and online influencers to reach customers via social media channels”.

“Production of British blueberries continues to grow, says Alastair, and we enjoyed success at this year’s Horticulture Week Business Awards, with Mee Farmers, one of our most recent co-operative members winning New Business of the Year with their diversification into blueberries. Kantar continues to report strong growth in the market with volume increasing 12.36% year on year, penetration at 48.6% and frequency of purchase up to 12 times a year.

To meet the ongoing growth for blueberries we have increased plantings of Driscoll’s own genetics that are suited to our climate as well as working with Fall Creek Nurseries to introduce their existing and new varieties to the UK market.  We have also been supporting customers to establish a premium offering and have seen success in Waitrose with their Waitrose1 Blueberry line tripling in value.

As we approach the middle of the British cherry season, this year the fruit has been exceptionally large and sweet with growers regularly picking 32mm+.  Retailers have introduced King berry packs to trade consumers up to these delicious treats.  As with other categories, Berry Gardens focus remains on season extension with varieties such as Sequoia® and Sentennial™. With the co-operative’s geographic spread we are confident of pushing the limits of the season further.  Our growers continue investing in grading and packing technology to ensure consistent supply and quality.  A R Neaves & Sons were recently recognized for the investment they have made in their business ensuring it is fit for the future in the Horticulture Week Business Awards, winning Top Fruit Grower of the Year.”

For the first time Berry Gardens have created a PR campaign specifically to support British cherries to compliment the existing British Summer Fruit activities.  Fruit has been sampled at Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park festivals to a very warm welcome, specific online pages have been created and recipe development promoted on the Great British Chefs website to its 1million users.

“During the winter we have been working closely with overseas suppliers to grow availability with supermarket customers and at this key point in the season we have successfully exported British cherries” adds Jacqui.  Over the last 52 weeks Kantar1 reports the category has grown 9.45% in volume and just under 10% in value.

As a business Berry Gardens continues to invest in research to develop new areas, research this year includes the children’s market and snacking both of which indicate significant potential.  The company has recently appointed Amy Lance in the new position of Head of New Business Development to explore new opportunities reflecting consumer eating habits and lifestyle.

Industry and Business Update

“Brexit, labour and future funding concerns continue to be the overriding issue the industry faces.  We continue lobbying with one voice to both local MPs and Cabinet Ministers says

Nick Allen, Berry Gardens Chief Operating Officer.  To date we are waiting for clarity on what type of schemes, if any will be implemented once we leave the EU.  Recruitment of labour is already a problem with growers across fresh produce reporting challenges in recruiting and retaining good quality picking staff, with some up to 30% short of labour with the dire consequences being possibly loss of fruit.  Clarity is required urgently, concerning future PO funding to enable our growers to develop their long term business plans to meet production demands.

Nick continues, as a company we are confident that a solution will be reached and to meet our ambitious growth targets the build of our new 150,000 sq ft Head Office and packing facility continues to be on schedule with completion set for Autumn 2019.  The development of the site will provide 3.48 ha of low Weald wildwood, just under a 1 a of mature wetland and scrub habitat as well as 650m2 of solar panels contributing to a 30% improvement in CO2 emissions over Building Regulation requirements”.

To support Berry Gardens growth plans a new management development programme will be launched this autumn to commence September 2019.  This exciting two year programme offers participants four six-month secondments to gain a broad experience of the soft fruit industry combined with dedicated leadership and management training as well as continuous professional development resulting in an ILM accredited qualification.  Berry Gardens are working with 6th form colleges and will be visiting a range of universities and colleges over the Autumn to promote the scheme.

Alastair concludes “As a co-operative our growers continue to lead the way in terms of sustainability and promoting fresh produce as a significant UK industry.  Several of our growers supported Open Farm Sunday this year with over 2,000 members of the public seeing firsthand how soft fruit is grown.  We continue to support LEAF throughout the year and this year Anthony Snell of Windmill Hill Fruits based in Hereford has been awarded Leaf Demonstration Farm status in recognition of the business’ Integrated Farming Practices.

As an industry leader we also believe it is important that we support the emerging talent in our market and as such we are proud to sponsor the Under 40s Grower 2019 conference as well as The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers Student Prize 2018.  After much deliberation, the successful applicant this year is Jed Knaggs, who we believe will have a bright future in fresh produce.This fits well with our own in house Future Leaders Program, aimed at equipping our young growers and managers with the skills required to compete in our exciting and dynamic industry”.


For media enquiries and images please contact – Janine Hatfield, Communications Manager, Berry Gardens Ltd.  Tel: 01892 838800.


1 Kantar data 52 weeks cumulative to 17th June 2018

2 British Summer Fruit data June 2018

3 Kantar data 4 week to 17th June 2018