Opinion

Seasonality – what’s the real story?

01 April 2015

Paul Collins Commercial Director at Reynolds

So what is seasonality all about? Well, for me it’s quite simple. It’s about eating fresh fruit and vegetables when they are at the absolute peak of freshness and taste.

And of course, it’s definitely about embracing English asparagus, Scottish raspberries and Welsh leeks. Jersey Royals, Kentish cobnuts and Yorkshire forced rhubarb all tick the seasonal box perfectly too, as does the great British Bramley apple.

Good for you if you buy British wherever you can – Reynolds certainly does. But make sure you promote it on your menu, because supporting our farmers and educating your consumer is the best way to safeguard food security here in the UK. It should also keep your diners happy, because we all know that consumers like to know where the food they eat comes from.

But, seasonality isn’t just about UK grown or ‘local’ produce. For me, it’s about what’s abundant and what’s delicious to eat right now – regardless of whether it’s grown in the UK, southern Europe or South America.

We know that UK produce is vastly oversubscribed in most categories. Our country only grows 23% of the fresh produce it consumes. There simply isn’t enough fruit and vegetables

to go around, which means that ‘British’ often attracts a price premium, even though the associated transportation costs are much lower than for imported goods.

Unfortunately, the UK doesn’t have the economies of scale or comparative advantage compared to some other countries when it comes to growing certain crops – or the climate. Try as we might, it’s unlikely that we will ever be able to grow our own bananas, avocados or oranges – not at least without using an incredible amount of energy, which wouldn’t be great news for the environment.

So, accepting that we need to source our produce from somewhere, why not get it from where it’s best? The fact is that almost every type of fruit and vegetable is ‘in season’ at some point, somewhere in the world. Eating fresh seasonal produce is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For those who’ve never tried Italian blood oranges, Peruvian mangoes, Turkish figs or Australian finger limes I would encourage you to do so. The team at Reynolds can tell you when they’re at their best.

Because we (and our customers) prefer to buy British, we encourage our UK growers to extend seasons where they can and, by sharing best practices across the industry, we have seen great strides made in recent years. Boundaries are being pushed all the time.

But of course other countries across the world are also extending their seasons and growing new types and varieties of produce. These developments are in part at least aided by climate change, but also fuelled by economies of scale, technology, foreign investment and customer demand.

All of this change means that seasonality is no exact science – far from it. In fact, no two seasons are ever the same in the fresh produce industry. This makes planning ahead very difficult, but most importantly a plan is required as leaving things to chance is a distinct risk. As Benjamin Franklin said: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

At Reynolds, we take very seriously our role in advising customers what to buy (and what not to buy) at particular times of the year. At the same time, our customers rightly expect us to be able to source most fruit and vegetables 52 weeks of the year and, in many instances, we need to follow the seasons around the world to achieve this. Apples from New Zealand may not seem right, but they taste the best at certain times of the year and actually they make good commercial sense too. What’s more, they arrive in the UK by boat, which is the most carbon efficient method of transportation.

For many of our customers, seasonality is also closely linked with provenance and as well as educating people on what’s best to eat right now, we love to help communicate where the products come from – the grower’s story if you like. Importantly, this is made possible because our produce is fully traceable, from grower to chef.

Paul’s comments feature in the latest issue of Reynolds customer magazine The Marketplace, which takes a closer look at ‘the changing face of seasonality’ as well as analysing the supply picture across the range of fruit, veg and salads over the coming summer months.

Click here to read the fresh produce specialist’s spring 2015 edition.

Produce Business UK welcomes letters to the editor and other input from the industry. If you wish to respond to an article on Produce Business UK or join the conversation on any industry issue, please send your thoughts to [email protected]

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