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Berry Gardens in Tonbridge reveals at Fruit Focus in East Malling it has supplied 90% more strawberries to market after early start to seas

By Chris Price

One of the UK’s top berry growers has supplied over 90% more strawberries to the market between March and June compared to last year.

Tonbridge-based Berry Gardens, which has a national market share of more than 30%, says the strawberry season began three weeks early this year thanks to a mild spring.

Raspberries have followed a similar pattern, the grower-owned company revealed at industry exhibition Fruit Focus at East Malling Research.

Driscoll strawberry grown by Berry Gardens' growers

However, high yields have meant a period of over-supply for fruit, giving farmers weaker returns.

Meanwhile, blueberries are on course for their longest season ever and have seen their market share grow nearly 10%.

This is thanks in large part to discounters Aldi and Lidl, whose interest was up more than 25% in the four weeks to June 22.

Berry Gardens has also recorded its earliest cherry season ever, with 950 tonnes expected to be delivered to retailers.

“We still have several months of UK production to enjoy and this year is forecast to be a bumper year, due to the early season and the British public’s on-going love of strawberries...” - Berry Gardens' Nicholas Marston

Managing director Nicholas Marston said: “Several of our growers have developed their knowledge of growing blueberries over the last few years and we are enjoying the benefits as the bushes are maturing well and producing good yields.

“As a co-operative with growers throughout the UK, Berry Gardens has been able to meet demand with the early English tunnelled crops followed by Scottish crops which now provide a significant proportion of the UK strawberry production.

"Strawberries have eaten really well this year and have delivered outstanding quality.

"Retailers have supported the peak in June and this continued throughout the Wimbledon fortnight with in-store support and tactical promotions.

“We still have several months of UK production to enjoy and this year is forecast to be a bumper year, due to the early season and the British public’s on-going love of strawberries.”

Berry Gardens opened an extension to its storage and packing facility in Maidstone in November, doubling its size.

Fruit Focus brings together more than 1,200 growers and industry professionals with about 115 leading suppliers.

Meanwhile, the region’s best three farms for berries and cherries have been revealed after top producers of soft fruit were taste-tested at the Kent County Show.

Marion Regan of Hugh Lowe Farms in Maidstone won the strawberries category

The Taste of Kent Awards 2015 decided upon the winners of its first award, the soft fruit and cherries category, at the three-day agricultural show last week because the fruit is now in season.

Other food category winners in the Taste of Kent Awards will not be announced until March 2015, so fruit fans and producers were eagerly awaiting the very first verdict of the coming year’s competition.

DH Bryant and Partner of Hernhill, near Faversham, were victorious in cherries, Hugh Lowe Farms of Maidstone triumphed in strawberries, and Lower Ladysden Farm, near Goudhurst, reigned supreme in raspberries.

Stephanie Durling of Produced in Kent said: “Whilst the fruit all looked fantastic on display, it all came down to taste to decide the winners.”

For more information, visit www.tasteofkentawards.co.uk.

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