12 June 1998

UK vining peas are best, but stay alert to keep that edge

ByAndrew Swallow

UK vining peas are better than those grown on the Continent, but growers cannot afford to relax on quality, say experts.

"We see UK pea quality as the best in Europe," says Herwig Dejonghe, of Belgium processor Pinguin. However, for alternative processing vegetables, such as baby carrots, other countries have the edge, he believes.

Pinguin supplies produce to Fisher Frozen Foods, the UKs largest seller of frozen green vegetables, which echoes the Belgian companys view.

Despite the strength of the £, Fisher is still exporting peas to Europe. But other vegetables for the domestic frozen market are increasingly sourced abroad.

To maintain the competitive edge in peas and regain lost ground in other crops, growers must strive to improve quality, says Fishers Stephen Waugh.

"Quality is vital if we are to drive up the value of the frozen product," he stresses. Frozen vegetables sell at an average of only £1.25/kg retail, despite similar quality pre-prepared fresh produce selling at an average £4.20/kg, he says.

But pre-prepared produce need not be a threat to growers, says Nigel Terry, chief executive of the frozen and chilled division of the company. "We would like to see growers producing for both sides of our business."

To improve quality in both sectors the company has strengthened its resources and urges producers to get involved in the pursuit of quality.

"We have invested £11m in new equipment, now farmers must look at their side of the production process," says Mr Terry. "If any product from the field is visually not right, contains foreign matter or other quality problems, we will not take it." That means lifting viner headers to avoid sucking up foreign matter, such as pheasant droppings, even if a few pods are left in the field, he says.

Assured produce is also essential. "It is a condition that our growers are part of the national scheme. We cannot afford scares on safety or hygiene," says procurement manager Peter Hurley. &#42

Nothing compares to UK peas for quality, but for other crops like these green beans the Continent has the edge, says Herwig Dejonghe of Belgian processor Pinguin. He believes vegetable processing is becoming polarised. UK processor Fisher Frozen Foods response is a crusade on quality.