In a recent survey conducted by British Berry Growers, the leading organisation representing 95% of the UK's berry sales, it has emerged that a significant 80% of berry producers in Britain no longer perceive their relationship with UK supermarkets as a partnership.
The survey revealed a stark absence of a genuine partnership sentiment among growers towards their retail counterparts. A notable 40% of those surveyed expressed the view that supermarkets are primarily focused on purchasing based on price alone.
Furthermore, the confidence in the berry sector's future appears to be waning, with 68% of growers indicating a reduction in their investment plans going forward. A mere 4% are considering an increase in future investments.
These findings align with an independent analysis by Andersons Midlands, a consultancy firm, which highlighted that the returns from supermarkets are not keeping pace with the rising production costs for growers. The report detailed an average increase in production costs between 2021 and 2023: 18p for a 400g punnet of strawberries, 21p for a 200g punnet of raspberries, 23p for a 200g punnet of blueberries, and 21p for a 200g punnet of blackberries.
Contrastingly, the average payment from supermarkets for strawberries and raspberries increased by only 4p (2.3%) and 11p (6.9%) respectively during this period. Payments for blackberries and blueberries saw a decline of 6p (-4.6%) and 13p (-7.5%) respectively.
Despite these challenges, consumer demand for British berries has seen a significant increase, with Kantar, a data analysis firm, reporting an 11.4% growth in the UK berry market's value since 2022, rising from £782.4 million to £871.3 million. The market volume also grew by 8%, with 126.9 million tons sold.
This growth surpasses that of the broader fruit category, which saw a 7.8% increase in value and a 0.8% rise in volume. However, British Berry Growers warns that this growth may not be sustainable in the long term.
Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, commented on the situation: “The survival of growers is at risk, and those who do manage to stay afloat will likely cut back on their planting investments unless there's immediate action to ensure fairer returns in the domestic market. The consumer demand for British berries is evident, but meeting this demand will be challenging if the industry continues to shrink.”
The concerns of British Berry Growers are mirrored in the recent report by the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee. The report acknowledges the damage caused by the lack of long-term contracts and fair returns, and it also suggests that the sector is not receiving adequate attention or appreciation from policymakers.
Earlier this year, in a move towards more openness, British Berry Growers began publishing weekly retail sales data from its members to highlight which supermarkets are most supportive of British berries. While overall berry sales increased in 2023, there was noticeable variation in growth among different retailers, underscoring the potential for increased sales in the berry category across the High Street.
Marston further stated: “It's illogical that retailers are raising prices for consumers but not passing these increases on to the growers, who are struggling with escalating production costs. The bleak future of horticulture, as noted by the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee, is a daily reality for our members. We urge supermarkets to act responsibly towards their growers, and we call on the government to address issues like seasonal labour uncertainties, unfair returns, and to ensure long-term sector growth. This issue extends beyond berry growers; it's about the future of UK food security, biodiversity, and national health.”