7 July 1995

M&S boosts UK strawberries

AS the nation continued to consume vast quantities of fresh strawberries Europes biggest supplier was telling Royal Show visitors how modern technology was ensuring that 70% of consumption was now home-grown.

Duncan MacIntyre, head of soft fruit with Marks and Spencer, said that five years ago they were importing 65% of supplies.

"We were buying from a host of countries, but taste was a major problem and it was limiting consumption," said Mr MacIntyre.

"Over the past five years we have employed modern technology to extend a home season of high-quality fruit that has taste. This year our throughput will be double that of 1990 and almost three-quarters of sales will be home-produced fruit."

Angus Soft Fruits, a combine of four growers in Scotland, is a big supplier to Marks and Spencer, with 23ha (57 acres) of main season fruit and 15ha (37 acres) of 60-day crops including 0.5ha (1.2 acres) cropping twice a year under polythene.

The group works closely with M&S on new developments and quality control. "One new variety being developed by the Scottish Crop Research Institute is Symphony and it looks very promising. It will be field tested by Angus Soft Fruits," said Mr MacIntyre, who eventually wants to have a patented variety unique to his company. "Our aim is to have only Scottish straw- berries in our 30 Scottish stores." For Scottish growers the returns from an expanding fresh market are 10 times higher than from processing. "We used to get about £550/t for jam-making strawberries and the whole soft fruit business in Scotland was in danger of collapse. But there has been investment and the whole future of the sector is very much brighter," said grower David Leslie. &#42

M&Ss Duncan MacIntyre with growers David Leslie and Lochy Porter.