The biggest crop of apricots in a decade is coming to UK supermarkets this year, according to a new report from Tesco.
The retailer predicts that it will see some 250 tonnes of the fruit this year, a stunning turnaround over the past 10 years when volume was a paltry 40 tonnes from a “handful of gutsy, mainly Kentish fruit farmers.”
Despite cooler temperatures, UK growers have found a way to beat the odds and grow the fickle fruit courtesy of a sea shift in production methods. It has been sparked by cultivars, or tree hybrids that allow for later flowering in spring. Combined that with location – in the south of England in Kent and on the Isle of Wright, where sun is more prevalent, and apricots have surprisingly flourished.
“Production has really improved in the last 10 years and we are now far better prepared for the changeable British weather,” said David Moore, owner of Home Farm, near Maidstone, which is the UK’s biggest grower of English apricots, and Tesco’s main supplier. “Ironically, the cooler British night-time temperature produces very high quality apricots as the fruit grows more slowly, resulting in a more intense and sweet taste plus a stronger, richer colour than imported varieties from France and Portugal. In the last 10 years we’ve learned about understanding the light needs of fruit ripening for these new varieties and so we have adopted our pruning style to maximise the amount of light reaching the fruit bearing parts of the tree. In addition we have had to learn how to combat the effect of frost in the early season growing stages and we now have an insulating crop cover structure to protect the crop from the extremes of the UK climate.”
Of course, Moore admits that this season has been a great one for growing, sparked by a nice summer heatwave to offset some of the rains early on. He expects the farm to produce the most apricots in its history: 136 tonnes.
Because of the volume, Tesco expects that apricots – which hit shelves this week at £1.50 per punnet – will be featured in stores until mid-September. And it says it is proud to be able to deliver those from the UK to customers.
“Now 10 years on, the quality of the apricots grown this year that will hit our shelves next week are world class – as good if not better than the ones produced in France and Portugal,” says Tesco Stone Fruit Buyer Maria Katsipi. “UK shoppers have a great affinity for British grown fruit and can’t get enough of these English apricots.”