Despite some well publicised exits from the crop in recent times, Scottish soft fruit growers could still corner a key market section of sales of the UK’s second most popular soft fruit, Blueberries.
A leading researcher and plant breeder has claimed that despite the ongoing issues associated with post-Brexit labour shortages which have seen growers moving out of Blueberry production, Scotland’s unique climate offers the opportunity to capture the premium end of the market with the superior flavour and eating experience of berries grown here.
Susan McCallum of the James Hutton Institute said that although blueberries stood only behind strawberries as the nation’s favourite soft fruit – accounting for an estimated £416 million of a total soft fruit spend of £1.6 billion – more than 70% of the product on supermarket shelves was likely to have spent several weeks in transit on a ship as they tended to be imported from countries many thousands of miles away:
“And consumer surveys have shown that the majority of those who buy these blueberries often do it more for the perceived health benefits of what has been termed a super-food rather than for the eating experience.”
She said that while major producing countries such as Peru - which was now the major exporter on the world stage – benefited from being able to supply the crop 52 weeks of the year while getting two harvests from the same bushes each year, the Scottish growing season, while considerably shorter, offered major benefits in terms of both fruit size and taste:
“And those are some of the key areas on which our research is being focused – taste and eating quality.”
Dr McCallum said that getting consumers to recognise the quality which Scottish berries offered would allow domestic growers to take advantage of their premium product as the top end of this market developed.
Other research work was aimed at breeding more resilient varieties which could be grown outside and which required fewer inputs in terms of fertiliser and sprays:
“While many of the crops have been grown in pots in polytunnels in the past, by growing crops outside we can help to reduce fertiliser and pesticide inputs by encouraging better utilisation of the mycorrhizal root associations with the soil biome - while also making the crop more conducive to mechanical harvesting.”
About the Author: John Sleigh is the Editor of the Scottish Farmer.