Over the past five years the broccoli market in the UK has grown in volume from 83 million tonnes to some 113m tonnes, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel. But increasing price pressure has shaved value from £208m down to £180m. Even so, there remain opportunities to grow sales, and potentially drive the seasonal British offer. PBUK investigates.
“In the latest year (the 52 weeks ending 16 July 2017), broccoli is worth £180m [to the UK retail market], which is down about 0.4% compared with the year-earlier period, while volume is also flat,” Chris Cowan, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel, tells PBUK.
Cowan explains that price has been the significant driver of the value decline. In 2013 he says the average price for broccoli in the UK was £2.52 per kilogramme, while today it has fallen by almost £1.00 to £1.59/kg.
Richard Mowbray, vice-chairman of British Brassicas Association and commercial director of grower TH Clements, agrees the market is flat on account of pricing.
During the last few years, Mowbray says the grower base across the entire brassica category has been in decline because of low returns.
“Like in lots of sectors of agriculture, the returns [to brassica growers] haven’t been great,” he admits. “In 2016 planted area with broccoli in the UK fell to 7,500ha, down from 8,500ha in 2015. I should think this was due to broccoli growers switching to more profitable crops because of low income.”
At the same time, however, broccoli yields have been increasing, meaning the sector has been producing more tonnes across the year.
Despite the challenges, Mowbray believes there could be brighter days ahead for British broccoli producers and UK agriculture in general.
“I think there’ll be opportunities, especially with the weakening of the British pound and the changes as a result of Brexit,” he explains.
“Already, imported broccoli is now 15-20% more expensive than it was 18 months ago,” Mowbray continues. “Depending on what trade deals and agricultural support the UK gets, the country could look to become more self-sufficient in food than it has been in a while.
“That could present opportunities for UK agriculture and broccoli.”
Currently, Mowbray says the UK imports broccoli for half of the year to complement its domestic season. That volume equates to roughly 55-60% of UK supply. With the rise in the cost of imports, however, he suggests the UK may shift back to eating more seasonally.
“It could mean that we only eat broccoli during the summer and autumn, and then we move to another product such as cauliflower for the winter and spring,” he explains.
“We’ve gotten used to to having products all year round, but it might mean we eat what’s in season, like in France.”
Sales & consumption
Broccoli remains a shopping basket favourite for UK consumers. In the last five years, Kantar data indicates that more Brits have been buying broccoli and on a more regular basis.
“One of the big drivers of the volume growth in the last five years are the percentage of the British population buying into broccoli – up from 63% to 69% – and the average frequency of buying, which has risen from 12.6 times per year to 15.1,” says Cowan.
Since British schools broke up for summer in July Mowbray says broccoli sales seem to have been higher than at the same point last year.
“The weather hasn’t been quite so good, which is probably the reason,” he explains. “Broccoli is often used as an alternative to salads because it’s a really easy vegetable to prepare and cook.”
Indeed Mowbray says broccoli is still one of the “hero vegetables” in terms of healthy eating, and remains a product that gets naturally advertised.
“I think it’s because broccoli has quite a mild flavour, is easy to prepare and is relatively cheap as far as food goes,” he comments.
Earlier this year broccoli was even singled out as Britain’s favourite vegetable, ahead of sweetcorn and tomatoes, according to a Diabetes UK online survey of 2,000 people.
With ongoing marketing initiatives like the ‘Love Your Greens’ campaign for brassicas, opportunities remain to grow consumption further.
“We know broccoli is only eaten, on average, by a quarter of the population each week and features in one to two dishes,” Cowan points out. “But in the last year both of these figures have fallen slightly.”
At a time of price pressure, particularly on standard broccoli, Cowan says inspiring shoppers to choose more often, or giving them an option to trade up to (in addition to Tenderstem) will help bring cash to the category.
Following very dry weather conditions earlier in the summer, especially in the east of the UK, fortunes for this season’s British broccoli crop have improved.
“We’re having a reasonable season,” Mowbray comments.
“There was quite a dry period, particularly in Lincolnshire, which caused some delays to harvesting during July. Since then, we’ve had good rainfall when we’ve needed it, so yields and quality are reasonable.
“Sales are slightly higher and prices have been average. We expect to continue harvesting until mid-November.”
The UK produces a number of broccoli varieties, including standard, Bellaverde, purple sprouting and Beneforté. Tenderstem is largely imported. Across the different varieties there is expected to be little variance this season.
“The standard crop has good quality,” notes Mowbray. “There is very little pest and disease thanks to a more diverse range of good quality varieties becoming available from seed.
“We’re seeing good purple sprouting broccoli yields too. Last year was really poor by comparison. It was a real struggle all the way through August because of the weather. But this year there are good yields, quality and availability.”