Sales of kale have soared 40% over the past year, driven by good availability, quality and attractive retail pricing as well as a growing fan club of foodies and celebrity chefs.

Volume sales of kale, part of the brassica family, have risen 40% to 3,048 tonnes, with value up 38.4% to £12.6m [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 17 February 2013]. Growth outperformed the brassica market - albeit from a much smaller base - which rose 1.7% to 341,644 tonnes and 7.3% to £585.9m.

Last year’s bad weather caused shortages and quality issues for many brassicas, such as spring greens and savoy cabbage, but kale was winter-hardy and had experienced fewer problems, said one grower. “It’s been readily available on shelves, and that - along with good, consistent quality - has been a key factor in driving growth,” he said. Attractive round-pound retail prices on kale - such as £1 for a 200g bag in Sainsbury’s - had also encouraged more shoppers to try out kale, he added.

Kale has also been gaining in profile thanks to increased use in restaurants and by celebrity chefs. “We have noticed more restaurateurs putting both green and red kale on menus,” Andy Weir, head of marketing at catering supplier Reynolds, said. “Certainly our food development team showcase kale and other bitter greens regularly to customers, and the menu trend seems to continue growing.”

If this year’s weather is more favourable, kale will lose some of its advantage over other brassicas, but growers and suppliers are confident of a “big opportunity” regardless. “The repeat rates we’re seeing are very healthy - around 45% - and we’d expect growth to continue to be strong,” one supplier said.

The British kale season runs from June to early March.