Herb growers left their annual conference on the 11th February with a clear message that they need to review many aspects of their businesses and look at other categories experience when managing change. They also need to understand their consumer better if they are to increase their share of the weekly shopping spend.
With individual presentations, and a thought provoking panel session, with Jane King of AHDB, Nick Marston of BerryGardens, Steve Edwards from PhytoLux and Carolyn Hudson from England Marketing the delegates discussed the challenges facing the herb industry. Jane King highlighted the challenges of increasing population predicted in the UK and the fact that the UK is lagging behind in growth and productivity. The changes that the AHDB were currently undergoing will mean that the way they communicate with growers, and vice versa, may change. Nick Marston was questioned on how the soft fruit industry has managed the increase in UK production and demand from 14,000 tonnes in 1999 to over 66,000 tonnes in 2015. He pointed out that the industry consolidation, varietal research and the advent of tunnel production had enabled growers to supply good quality product to UK retailers and extend the season so it started earlier and finished later. The soft fruit industry had been helped by some co-operatives using the funding available to them from EU Fruit & Vegetable Producer Organisation scheme.
The introduction of LED lighting technology and the impact on yields and quality was keenly discussed. Steve Edwards’s presentation focused on the work he had done on several crops and the fact that it needed a combined strategy which included not just light but other factors, such as irrigation, being right at the same time. Carolyn Hudson’s experience in consumer research gave the audience a unique insight into what herb users, and non-users, thought about the products and how they used and stored them and also their frequency of purchase. Carolyn challenged the growers to consider how they could increase the rate of purchase amongst some of the herb lines to increase their market.
British Herbs Chairman, Nigel Stangroom said “The herb industry, like all fresh produce sectors, needs to be aware of the challenges facing them and must also learn from others how they have developed to the benefit of their growers and their customers. The speakers at the conference provided us with a forum which stimulated a very interesting debate. Our members certainly left with plenty to think about, now we must keep the debate going and look long and hard at how to move our industry forward.”