Gordon Blake, director with leading marketer the Summer Fruit Company, said soft fruit had made a substantial contribution to the 7% increase in the value of the total fruit market this year.
Speaking at the industry’s annual conference in Kent, he said soft fruit was now worth £309m, beating stone fruit at £261m, although this did reflect
the decimation of continental peach and nectarine crops this summer.
“Soft fruit is the fastest growing category with the fruit market,” he added, “up 30%. Our nearest growth competitor is melons at 17%.”
Virtually perfect growing conditions produced excellent quality fruit and the industry was often hard pressed to meet consumer demand.
Strawberry sales rose from 23,000 tonnes to 30,000 tonnes, while still showing a marginal increase in price. Retailers offered customers larger packs and more multibuy and extra-free promotions.
Raspberries enjoyed a 56% increase year-on-year and accounted for 16% of soft fruit sales valued at £50m, second to strawberries at 79%.
According to Blake, both Tesco and Marks and Spencer performed best this year. “Half the UK industry’s retail sales are with Tesco and Sainsbury. This season, however, only Tesco and M& S had increased market share, 3.1% and 1% respectively.
“Sainsbury stood still while Asda, Safeway, Waitrose and Somerfield showed a decline.”
Blake also saw a bright future for the industry thanks to generally high investment and increased activity to discover new varieties.
And he told growers not to underestimate smaller lines of redcurrants, blackberries, tayberries and loganberries which now had a collective value of £4m.