Growing, grading, packing and supplying £3.5bn of fresh produce, 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year, into one of the world’s most competitive markets is a challenge facing UK growers on a daily basis – but its one the industry is uniquely placed to meet, writes Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association
The combination of climate, technology, innovation, investment and commitment from UK growers provides consumers with a terrific range and quality of fresh produce each time they enter a store.
The UK fresh produce industry is integral to the UK economy – employing over 37,000 people full time and an extra 56,000 seasonal staff. The industry also produces 40 per cent of the country’s indigenous fruit supply and 60 per cent of the vegetable and salad supply, meaning Britain is reliant on the sector producing home-grown ingredients.
The industry helps to directly contribute to feeding an ever-growing national population, which estimated to reach 70 million in just over a decade, according to the Office for National Statistics. However, this critical part of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector doesn’t always get the recognition for its contribution to the UK’s GDP.
We share many of the challenges facing other market-focused industries, operating in a highly competitive environment. Key among these are the need for a stable economy and the right incentives to encourage investment; the impact of exchange rates and competition from cheap imports; adequate supplies of skilled labour, and regulation restricting access to technology which is available to overseas competitors.
The sector contributes over £3bn to UK GDP and we should and could grow this figure if we have the right incentives and the industry has the confidence to invest.
The new government has given a manifesto commitment to encourage the industry to grow more, eat more and sell more. The emphasis on healthy eating, growing more, eating more and selling more fresh produce – at home and abroad – is a concept that works well in fresh produce.
A critical area for growers in the immediate future is the supplier-retailer relationship. The government has introduced an independent Grocery Code Adjudicator (GCA) which is helping to change the culture within the relationship and move to a more collaborative approach, which puts the end customer at the heart of the operation.
Most families consume fresh fruit and vegetables on a daily basis, which makes it a staple in most shopping trips. Ensuring that UK consumers have a great range and choice of fresh produce needs to be shared goal for both growers and retailers.
The UK is currently a long way short of being self-sufficient in the supply of indigenous fresh produce, meaning there is a great opportunity to increase the supply of fresh produce from UK growers. But against a backdrop of intense competition, we have to find a way to do this profitably so growers can reinvest for the future.