1 Domestic plum production could follow the same fate as other shrinking crops like cauliflower, thanks to supermarkets' disappointing investment in this year's bumper harvest, chairman of the NFU Board for Horticulture & Potatoes Sarah Pettitt has claimed.
Pettitt made her prediction after growers revealed they are being forced to leave their crops to rot this season because multiples such as Tesco are stocking imports in favour of British plums.
Pettitt said: "If British plum growers end up dumping hundreds of tonnes of plums because UK supermarkets are preferentially stocking imported product, then I think it is fair to say that adverse UK retail conditions will be largely responsible for the subsequent reduction in domestic plum production next year and in subsequent years."
Kent fruit farmer Peter Checkley, manager of Broadwater Farm in West Malling, agreed it is "galling" for a grower to grow "fantastic" quality fruit and not be able to pick it.
Checkley, who made the decision to stop picking two weeks ago when he realised he would not find a buyer for his fruit, said: "We have thrown a huge amount away. Twenty per cent of the shelf space is allocated to English plums. The rest is foreign imports. It's terrible."
Kent fruit grower Robert Pascall told Grower that much of his crop has also gone to waste. "I hope that by making enough fuss we will get through to [the multiples]."
Managing director Nick Marston of Berry Gardens, which represents some stone fruit growers, said the lack of British plums on supermarket shelves is due to "a combination of factors".
"In fairness to retailers, they have been very supportive of British fruit. The case of plums is a bit unusual. British plums are sold through a range of different outlets — reducing the marketing clout of the UK [stone fruit] industry. There's a very large British plum crop this year and they are not as well presented as they might be.
"The cost prices of importing plums are very low, which makes supermarkets reluctant to stock them. Most retailers are stocking five or six different plum products — only one of which is UK plums. That has restricted the amount of shelf space British plums are getting.
"We are pressing retailers to give British plums more footage but it is going to be very hard going."
However, two supermarkets — Waitrose and Marks & Spencer — are leading by example and supporting British plums.
Waitrose fruit buyer Nicki Baggott said: "When we heard that there would be an abundant crop of British plums this year, we made plans to source additional supplies from our British growers. Ninety-four per cent of our plums are British, with the remaining six per cent being varieties which do not grow as well in the British climate."
A representative for Tesco told Grower: "We currently have British plums for sale in stores throughout the UK. In previous years we've been unable to satisfy demand for them due to the unpredictable UK weather and so we have needed to plan ahead by importing some product to ensure availability for customers. Our British plums are clearly labelled for anyone who wants to buy them."
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