In what is believed to be one of the earliest arrivals of British strawberries ever, the home-grown fruit is already on the shelves of UK supermarkets with supply likely to last until mid-November.
Gone are the days when strawberries would be synonymous with summer and available for a limited window around Wimbledon.
Thanks to significant investment in the UK berry sector, cultivating in state-of-the art glasshouses and mild winter weather, the British-grown strawberry season lasts around nine months of the year – and today (February 28) sees the first batches of berries arrive in Tesco.
Usually the first British strawberries come from the warmer climates of Kent, Sussex or Wales but this year’s early fruit was cultivated by one of the UK’s largest berry producers, Lancashire-based Medlar Fruit.
“This brilliant but rare opportunity for customers to enjoy English strawberries so early in the year, is great news for shoppers,” says Tesco’s strawberry buyer Henry Maulik.
“Helped by the recent warmer temperatures, this is the first time in ages that UK strawberries grown for supermarkets have been picked in February.
“Regarded as some of the best in the world, British strawberries tend to be sweeter, juicier and softer than those grown in other countries. The arrival of the first English strawberries marks the start of the UK fruit season.”
Speaking with PBUK chairman of British Summer Fruits, Laurance Olins, says UK growers have been growing in glasshouses for the last few years and with 10% of the crop now grown this way.
“If indeed it is the earliest arrival ever, it will be because there’s been more light and more heat, and not really to do with the conditions outside because it’s all grown under controlled environmental conditions, namely heat and light sources,” he says.
“The only outside condition which would make a difference is the light levels, but there is a greater use of LED lighting which probably means there have been greater light levels applied to this crop.
“The main crop where we supply 100% of the market doesn’t start until the first week in May at the earliest, and the supply will last at that level, certainly until the end of September when we will back to limited amounts.”
Tesco’s early season glasshouse variety, Driscoll’s Lusa, has been specially selected for its consistent high quality, aromatic flavour and sweet taste, according to Medlar Fruit managing director, Steve Bell.
“We’re pleased to have been able to put Lancashire well and truly on the map for strawberries. The Driscoll’s Lusa variety are hugely popular with customers because of their fantastic flavour,” he says.
“We’ve been working with Tesco to extend the British season, so that shoppers can enjoy them for even longer.”
Traditionally the UK strawberry season runs from May to September but thanks to major advancements in computerised glasshouses, plus significant marketing campaigns run by British Summer Fruits, the fruit can be available for much of the year.
Next week Tesco will also be stocking strawberries grown by one of its Welsh growers, S&A Produce, based in Herefordshire.