Cucumbers could join the ranks of the Cornish Pasty, Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and Kentish Ale as a food with Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.
Growers are hoping to submit an application for the Lea Valley cucumber, which accounts for 75% of cucumbers grown in the UK and is said to be “less bitter” and thinner skinned than those grown elsewhere.
The Lea Valley Growers Association hopes the move will boost the profile and reputation of Lea Valley cucumbers after sales took a hit following the German E.coli outbreak earlier this year.
Lee Stiles, secretary of the Lea Valley Growers Association, said growers had lost about £1.5m a week in sales during the scare. “Salads, especially cucumbers, need a PR overhaul,” he said. “Sales have still not come back to what they should be.”
At present, Lea Valley cucumbers are only harvested between January and October because high energy prices make it uneconomic to heat the glasshouses during the last quarter of the year.
However, PGI status would help growers generate more value and could make year-round production profitable, said Stiles.
If the application for PGI status were successful, the LVGA would also consider submitting applications on behalf of sweet peppers and vine tomatoes, which are also grown in the valley, he added.
The Lea Valley Growers Association is currently liaising with consultants ADAS UK who handle applications on behalf of Defra with a view to submitting an application for PGI status shortly.
Irene Bocchetta of ADAS UK said she was pleased to see a vegetable vie for PGI status. “Now I really want to start seeing some fruit applications,” she added.
The Lea Valley was one of the UK first areas to grow cucumbers after they were imported from India. The only UK fruit and veg currently to hold EU protected food name status are Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb and Jersey Royal Potatoes.