UK berry industry publishes retail sales data amid viability concerns

Lidl tops the chart of major retailers as the most supportive of British berries, followed by Aldi and Waitrose

British Berry Growers (BBG), the industry body representing 95 per cent of berries sold in the UK, has started publishing weekly sales data from its members to reveal which supermarkets are most supportive of British berries.

Nick Marston

BBG chairman Nick Marston

It said the data, which can be viewed here, will bring greater transparency to the industry at a time when growers face unprecedented cost pressures.

“Britain is self-sufficient in strawberries from May to October. British raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are in plentiful supply throughout the summer months. Fresh berries are the most popular fruit item in the nation’s shopping baskets – enjoying the biggest market share (28 per cent) of all fruit sold in the UK,” the organisation said on Monday.

“Despite this abundance and demand for soft fruit, not all supermarkets are backing British berries. The British berry industry is under threat with supermarket returns failing to meet growers’ inflationary costs of production.”

BBG points out that its members reported zero increase in what retailers paid for their strawberries in 2022, in spite of rising costs for energy, packaging, haulage, and labour all contributing to grower cost increases.

At the same time, data from analyst firm Kantar shows that in the 2022 British season from May to September, supermarkets increased the average price of berries by 11 per cent for consumers.

The data will be published each Wednesday during the UK summer season and is presented in two ways. First, the total tonnes of British berries sold to UK supermarkets by BBG members, and second the percentage of total British berries sold compared to that supermarket’s grocery market share.

“Together, the weekly charts provide an accurate picture of which retailers are the most supportive of fresh British berries,” BBG said.

“For example, although in the week commencing 10 July Tesco bought the most British berries (1,361.6 tonnes) of any UK supermarket, this equated to 23.9 per cent of all British berries sold which is less than its 27.1 per cent grocery market share.”

The data shows that Asda had the biggest discrepancy between its grocery market share (13.7 per cent) and the percentage of all British berries sold to UK supermarkets (5.5 per cent) in the latest data charts of the summer season.

As of 20 July, Lidl was the largest single supermarket to top the charts for total berries sold compared to their market share, followed by Aldi, Waitrose and Co-op.

Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, said the squeeze on the British berry industry is seriously threatening its long-term viability.

A BBG survey, carried out in June, revealed that growers are already reining back strawberry planting plans in the face of stagnant returns and significant cost increases. It identified an 8 per cent reduction in the number of strawberry plants being planned for 2024, equivalent to an estimated 12m fewer strawberry plants and 9m fewer punnets.

“While the decline in strawberry production may not be that noticeable to consumers in 2023 as supermarket shelves are now filled with fresh strawberries, this analysis by British Berry Growers raises concerns around the sustainability of the industry in the long term,” the organisation said.

“Financially stretched growers are starting to reassess their planting plans and will move to growing other crops or diversifying away from horticulture if they are unable to cover their costs.”

In response to these challenges at home, growers are increasingly turning to export markets. According to the same survey, UK growers plan to export four times as many berries in 2023 as they did in 2022.

“If we don’t address this disconnect, British berry growers will start to reduce the numbers of berries they grow or go out of the industry completely, as they are unable to make a profit. None of us wants that, least of all consumers, who love buying and eating British berries,” Marston said.

“That’s why we have taken the step of publishing retail sales data collected from our members, so that the British public can see which retailers are most supportive of the British berry industry. We want to shine a light on retailer best practice and encourage consumers to challenge their supermarkets to stock British berries whenever possible.”

The BBG sales data rankings will culminate in the British Berry Growers’ annual Retailer of The Year Award to be announced at The Farmers Club in November 2023.

As well as calling for fairer returns for UK berry growers, BBG is also calling for specific government support to help address the cost of production crisis in the form of a fit-for-purpose seasonal worker visa scheme.

Specifically, BBG growers are seeking nine-month seasonal worker visas (currently six months) to ensure workers can cover the entire British berry picking season.