Ten years ago most people didn’t know what a blueberry looked like, says David Trehane, MD of The Dorset Blueberry Company, the leading UK producer.
The market is growing by more than 50% a year, with demand outstripping supply.
Having expanded from five acres to 25, the company is still planting more bushes as fast as it can and is recruiting growers, says Trehane, who was named the NFU’s Young Grower of the Year in February.
Blueberries take up to three years after planting to produce their first crop, and though the annual yield from the suitably acidic soil of the farm at Wimborne is more than 30 tonnes, he says 200 tonnes will be possible in eight years.
The company began with two hectares of blueberries planted in 1959 by Trehane’s grandparents, but it was only when he became MD in 1997 that the rapid expansion began. He doubled the planted acreage in 2000 and again in 2004 as demand took off, fuelled by public realisation of the health benefits of the vitamin C-rich fruit.
“People try them because they hear they are very good for you, and then they find they like the taste,” says Trehane.
He doesn’t worry that blueberries from Poland and Holland are offering stiff competition to the UK crop.
“People prefer English blueberries because they are bigger and have more flavour,” he claims. “If we can get more people tasting them, then I don’t feel threatened by imported ones.”
Nor does he see the health-driven demand for what he admits is an expensive product becoming a passing phase.
“Plenty more people are picking up punnets and trying them, and once they make that step, they are hooked.”
Greg Meenehan