Four major new berry varieties have been unveiled that growers hope will help boost their margins.

Lucy and Fenella are mid and mid to late season June-bearing strawberry varieties, Autumn Treasure is a pest and disease-resistant raspberry while Zoe is a black cherry. The new varieties were showcased by East Malling Research and marketeer Meiosis at last week’s Fruit Focus. No listings have yet been confirmed.

Key characteristics of the new varieties include higher yields than traditional fruit, good storage and shelf life and attractive appearances. Lucy and Fenella are expected to challenge market leader Elsanta for a share of the standard strawberry market.

The launches continue the flurry of NPD in the British berry sector and follow the debuts of Sasha and Elegance strawberries this year. Breeding work has focused on improving growers’ margins through higher-yielding disease-resistant varieties.

Aside from Jubilee, premium strawberry sales had suffered in the recession, said David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College, speaking at Fruit Focus. In contrast, overall English soft fruit sales had proven resilient. “Soft fruit is not recession-proof, but is not being traded down provided growers do not disappoint over quality,” he said.

The sector had not, however, escaped price cutting and heavy promotional activity, he warned. Margin pressure would continue over the next two years as high unemployment affected purchasing habits, he said. To minimise the impact, growers have been advised to seek strong commercial partnerships. “Align yourselves to a sales company that has best access to the best customers, have a clear vision of where you want to be in five years and cut costs but not at the expense of quality,” he said.

The total British berry fruit market is valued at £639m, with strawberries at £380m, raspberries £127m, blueberries £99m and blackberries £26m.