BerryWorld, a leading soft fruit supplier to the UK supermarket sector, is endeavouring to extend the domestic season for kiwiberries to enable UK consumers to enjoy the healthy and convenient miniature kiwifruit for longer. To that end, longstanding BerryWorld grower George Leeds of Withers Farm in Herefordshire is trialling new varieties and testing different storage techniques.
To support the strategy, BerryWorld is rolling out its largest kiwiberry promotional campaign to date in stores and via social media to get consumers talking and trying British kiwiberries during the season just started.
For the first time, scientifically-backed health claims are being presented, alongside a much bigger collection of sweet and savoury recipes. At least one marketing activity, such as sampling, will take place in selected stores operated by each of the five retail stockists: Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Ocado, Tesco and Waitrose.
Initially, BerryWorld’s kiwiberry business launched with UK volume supplied by Withers Farm, which planted the fruit in 2008 and produced its first commercial volume, albeit a couple of tonnes, in 2013/14. The firm now imports the fruit from Chile too.
Kiwiberries are also grown commercially in Europe, including the Netherlands, France, Italy and Portugal, as well as New Zealand during the counter season.
Extending domestic availability
Across 10 hectares in Ledbury, Withers Farm currently produces three mainstream kiwiberry varieties: Geneva, Weiki and Anna, which are preferred for their yield, flavour and appearance.
While those three varieties are picked simultaneously, there are hundreds of kiwiberry varieties that have been grown across China and northern Asia for centuries, all with different characteristics and harvesting schedules.
“We’re testing new varieties,” reveals Nic Leeds of Withers Farm, whose father George was one of the first to pioneer kiwiberry production in the UK.
“There are different varieties that are later or earlier – we’ve planted new fields where the fruit is coming to harvest at different times.”
Planting different varieties of kiwiberry, therefore, could naturally extend the domestic season, which currently covers approximately eight weeks from late August to October.
Already, Withers Farm is trialling a couple of new, promising varieties that offer better flavour and sweetness, and slightly bigger sizes, which some consumers prefer.
“Withers Farm produces the three tried-and-tested kiwiberry varieties, but we’re still exploring and looking for the next thing … to see what’s better, what’s sweeter and what people enjoy,” explains Leeds, who oversees the kiwiberry crop at Withers Farm.
“Some kiwiberry varieties have a blush to them, which some people think looks prettier,” Leeds says. “One variety is Ken’s Red, which is red inside and more visually appealing.”
Ambrosia is another promising variety that’s larger, with “very good” flavour. “We’ve only got a few hundred kilos,” Leeds states. “Eventually, we might plant more because the quality is better, and the fruit is larger.”
Importantly, although there is considerable pruning and husbandry work, Leeds says kiwiberries are not that difficult to grow in the UK because the plants lie dormant during the winter. “They can go to very low temperatures, which is good for us,” he explains.
Withers Farm is also trying out different methods to lengthen the storage time and prolong the British kiwiberry season.
“As we have to pick everything at once, we are doing trials in the packhouse on storage life,” says Leeds.
“We’re trying methods like modified-atmosphere packaging … kiwiberries are picked under-ripe at a Brix level of 6.5, and slowly ripen in store.”
Satisfying UK demand
This season, Withers Farm is harvesting a record crop of 60 tonnes, which will rise to 80 tonnes next year. In 2021, the family-run grower is aiming for 100 tonnes, having recently planted a new orchard.
Now the product is beginning to garner consumer attention, the UK retailers have responded well to kiwiberries. This season, the British crop is being stocked by five supermarket operators: Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Ocado, Tesco and Waitrose.
Equally, for BerryWorld and its grower, kiwiberries present a point of difference, and an opportunity to diversify.
The fruit is an “exciting” addition to BerryWorld’s range, says BerryWorld category manager Chloe Butler.
“These bite-sized, fuzz-free kiwis offer a snackable product that is locally sourced, which simply needs to be washed and can be consumed whole,” she points out.
“Strawberry penetration is at nearly 80 per cent, blueberries and raspberries are at 50 per cent and 46 per cent, while blackberries are quite a bit lower,” continues Butler. “It’s always about looking for the next new thing and getting people to try something different.”
Overall, there is high confidence for the future, with grower Leeds receiving “good benchmark” results from customer samples.
“Withers Farm was one of the first to start growing blueberries in the UK,” he claims. “Blueberries took off, and the aim for kiwiberries is to be a mainstream product, although not as big as blueberries.
“It’s only Morrisons’ first year with kiwiberries, and there’s been a good response so far on Instagram.”
Scientifically-backed health benefits
Importantly, kiwiberries possess fundamental characteristics that suit the UK consumer profile, especially the prevailing demand for health and convenience.
“These unique berries are sweet in taste, high in vitamins, convenient and affordable, making them the perfect snackable fruit for both kids and adults,” points out Paul Avery, sales director at BerryWorld.
Compared with their larger kiwifruit siblings, kiwiberries are miniature and require no peeling. Inside, they resemble a regular kiwifruit; deep green in colour, with a central ray of small black seeds.
“They’re a convenience fruit; about the size of a grape,” adds Leeds. “They’re like blueberries as they’re very good for snacking. They’re ideal for kids’ lunch boxes because you don’t need a knife. Plus, they have good health benefits, like blueberries.”
Indeed, kiwiberries are a good source of Vitamin C and fibre, as confirmed by research from the University of Ghent in Belgium. Additionally, BerryWorld is waiting on the results of kiwiberry nutritional analysis conducted by Campden BRI.
“They have health benefits which we think are probably better than kiwifruit,” states Butler. “We’re confident they’ll be high in Vitamin C and a good source of fibre. Those are the two health benefits that we can make claims scientifically, although within the Ghent University study it does mention antioxidants.”
As for flavour, opinions vary. “A lot of people say they taste like a kiwifruit,” explains Leeds. “Others say kiwiberries are like gooseberries, and many think they taste like apples. Personally, I think they taste like green kiwifruit.”
Big promotional push
With Leeds reporting excellent quality and larger sizes this season, BerryWorld is ramping up its marketing of kiwiberries to drive consumer engagement.
“This year, we are going to see a bumper UK crop, doubling the volume available to our customers,” explains Avery.
“BerryWorld is supporting our retail customers with recipe development, nutritional analysis, engaging educational content, in-store marketing and sampling to encourage consumers to try kiwiberries for the first time.”
BerryWorld is also introducing a new cardboard tray for Tesco featuring an illustrative kiwiberry print. “Many people don’t know what kiwiberries are like on the inside; this box shows the kiwiberry cut in half so people can see they’re like a kiwi,” says Butler.
“These activities are about giving consumers something to talk about and, for us, to explain that kiwiberries are not just a mini kiwifruit.”
Additionally, UK retailers are offering keen price points during the British season to encourage shoppers to try kiwiberries.
Kiwiberries from BerryWorld are available now at a range of stores operated by Morrisons (£1 for 150g), Tesco (£1.50 for 125g), Marks and Spencer (£1 for 125g), Waitrose (£2 for 200g) and Ocado (£1.50 for 150g).