Soft fruit growers have called on retailers to work closer with the sector after a survey by industry organisation British Berry Growers found that 80 per cent of growers no longer perceive their relationship with supermarkets as a partnership.
None of the growers surveyed felt they had “a true partnership” with retail customers and 40 per cent of respondents said that UK supermarkets are only interested in buying on price. This perception is affecting industry grower confidence, with 68 per cent of growers indicating a reduction in their investment plans going forward. A mere 4 per cent are considering an increase in future investment.
The survey results echo the findings of a recent analysis by consultancy Andersons Midlands which showed that returns from supermarkets are not keeping pace with rising production costs. The report detailed an average increase in production costs between 2021 and 2023 of 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.
However, 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.
However, data from Kantar shows strong demand for British soft fruit, with 11.4 per cent growth in the value of the UK berry market since 2022 from £782.4 million to £871.3 million. In the same time period, market volume grew by 8 per cent to 126.9 million tonnes of sales.
Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers warned, “Growers will go out of business and those that do survive will reduce their investment in planting unless there is urgent action to address fairer returns within the domestic market.
“It’s clear that consumers want to buy British berries. But we’re not going to be able to meet that demand if the industry contracts. It makes little sense that retailers are increasing the price per punnet for consumers but not passing this onto the growers who need it to cover their spiralling costs of production.”
Urging supermarkets to support British growers, he added, “There is nowhere else to go to import the volumes of berries that the UK actually consumes. If we see the UK industry diminish and contract, then the whole category is going to diminish, which will be a huge cost to UK horticulture, a huge cost to UK berry growers in the UK and also a huge cost to… the retailers.”