Blue Honeysuckle destined to be more than the hackneyed superfruit
L to R: Begnat Robichaud examines Blue Honeysuckle with grower Sandy Booth

Blue Honeysuckle destined to be more than the hackneyed superfruit

Kath Hammond
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Soft fruit marketing desk CPM has come into the limelight with its new superfruit – the tangy-tasting Blue Honeysuckle, also known as haskap. Produce Business UK takes a closer look at the company, its four-pronged approach to supply-chain management, its work with researchers and the exciting new berry in question

CPM specialises in supplying berries to supermarkets and foodservice customers across the UK and forms part of Kent-based AG Thames Holdings, which was set up by fruit trade stalwart Leon Aichen. AG Thames Holdings, of which Aichen remains chairman, is also the parent company of Chingford Fruit, which is well known as a top fruit and stonefruit import and supply specialist.

CPM has carved out a niche for itself; sourcing a full range of soft fruit from around the world to cover all 52 weeks of the year, forging links with growers and research organisations and, says commercial director Begnat Robichaud, adding value to the supply chain for buyers.

Robichaud explains: “There are four different models or elements to our supply chain. We grow our own product in the UK, we have crops grown under licence in Portugal, Spain and Morocco, we manage whole crops for our partner growers and we work with key growers to maintain availability for our customers where and when they require it. We also invest in breeding infrastructure and technology.”

Canadian teamwork

It is this latter point that has brought CPM to a position where it is poised to launch in 2016 homegrown Blue Honeysuckle berries for the UK market.

CPM started working some two years ago with two universities in Canada – where the fruit is known as haskap; the University of Saskatchewan and Dalhousie University. Saskatchewan has a fruit programme in its plant sciences department, which carried out extensive research funded by the province’s agriculture development fund leading to the publication of Breeding & Selecting Haskap for Nutraceutical and Agronomic Suitability earlier this year.

Bob Bors, who led the research, takes up the story: “In our research, more than 15,000 Blue Honeysuckle seedlings were field evaluated with the best intensively evaluated in lab tests and additional field studies.

“Antioxidant testing, in co-operation with Dalhousie University rated our varieties highest in antioxidants compared to other berries and grapes. Additionally, we discovered that some varieties have three times more nutraceuticals than other Blue Honeysuckle varieties.”

European production

Robichaud highlights how well suited the fruit, which has a distinctive flavour with hints of raspberry, blackberry and blueberry, is to the UK climate. “This berry is native to Japan and Siberia and grows very well in the UK due to cold winters and rainy spring weather. However, it’s relatively challenging to pick for the fresh market, which has created a barrier to entry. Blue Honeysuckle has a short harvesting window and a similar shelf-life to blackberries. It is likely to be available to buy fresh for only three to four weeks, although there are new varieties being planted that should enable seasonal extension in a few years.”

The dark blue, elongated Blue Honeysuckle is already being grown under contract in Poland where the season is a similar length to what will be the UK season; running from mid-June to mid-July.

Robichaud says: “Year-round availability is unlikely, however we are carrying out trials in three other EU countries in northern and southern Europe aimed at seasonal extension either side of the Polish-UK season to achieve a three-to-four month season. There is also potential to source in the counter season from certain areas of the southern hemisphere.”

CPM is working with three of its UK strawberry growers on Blue Honeysuckle – one each in Scotland, Somerset and Hampshire – and volumes are expected to increase over the first three years.

Sandy Booth, managing director of New Forest Fruit in Hampshire, says: “I’m really excited to get involved in a project like this. We’ve always prided ourselves on being innovators and a product like this is one that we can really get behind, as not only do I love the fruit itself, but the range of products you can create from it are great.”

Market potential

CPM believes the fruit’s greatest potential lies in the retail market and as Robichaud points out, its strongest trading relationships lie in this area. “Foodservice has been investigated and samples have been distributed for last two years,” he says. “The reaction has been favourable, although so far, our lack of production and the fact that the crop comes only once a year, has made it difficult to progress past samples. However, 2016 will give the first opportunity to offer fruit for sale in these markets.”

The term “superfruit” has become somewhat hackneyed, but Robichaud believes that Blue Honeysuckle does have the unique attributes that make it an extremely attractive proposition for buyers.

“Blue Honeysuckle has at least double the nutraceuticals compared to other berries and it also has 60% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C in a single handful of berries as well as three times the iron content of a blueberry and twice that of a strawberry,” he explains.

“The health aspect of Blue Honeysuckle’ and its unique attributes will remain key in bringing something completely new to the end consumer.”

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