Minor crops: An alternative for
the UK fruit industry?
Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust
Worshipful Company of Fruiterers
Felicidad Fernández Fernández
I would like to thank the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers (WCF), not only for
the funding that made this study possible, but also for their interest in its progress
and the personal encouragement and support shown by several of its members. I
would also like to thank my employers, East Malling Research (EMR), for taking a
wide view to career development and training, thereby giving me the time for this
scholarship. I am particularly grateful to Dr. Mike Solomon, technical secretary of the
WCF and EMR’s former science director. My most sincere thanks to Vicky Knight, my
mentor in all things raspberry; she was left to deal with a very busy and unseasonal
month whilst I had a great time travelling around the US. Her advice and support, as
always, meant a lot to me.
I am grateful to the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust for giving me this
opportunity and for welcoming me into their ‘special club’. John Stones arguably had
cause to regret their choice but lost neither patience nor hope and for that, amongst
other things, I thank him. Likewise, I would like to acknowledge my fellow 2006
Nuffield Scholars as a source of inspiration and pride. Apparently, a vintage year!
In the last two years I have become indebted to the many people who went
out of their way to facilitate my study. In no particular order, I would like to thank them
for information, hospitality, friendship or all three. In the USA, my gratitude to Terry
Bland, Drs Jim Ballington and Gina Fernández (North Carolina State University), Dr
John Clark (University of Arkansas), Drs Rick Harrison and Bruce Mowrey (Driscolls,
California), Dr Chad Finn and Prof. Bernadine Strik (Northwest Center for Small Fruit
Research, Oregon), Dr Joseph Postman, Emeritus Prof. Maxine Thompson and Dr
Kim Hummer (USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository, Corvallis), Dr Patrick
Moore (Washington State University, Puyallup), Gary Moulton and Dr Thomas
Walters (Washington State University, Mount Vernon), Drs Courtney Weber and Tom
Whitlow (Cornell University); in Canada thanks to Chaim Kempler (Pacific Agri-food
Research Center), Dr Hugh Daubeny (Vancouver) and Jarvis and Emily Blushke
(Saskatchewan Fruit Growers Association); in Serbia to Prof. Vladislav Ognjanov
(University of Novi Sad). Back in the UK, many thanks to Tim and Cilla Sobey (Little
Marcle), Dr Rex Brennan (Scottish Crop Research Institute), Clive Simms (Stanford),
Dr Alison Lean (Wye) and Asad H. Ahah (University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir). I
am also grateful to friends and colleagues for bringing to my attention any information
regarding unusual fruits they have come across.
Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my family: my partner Ben,
without whose love, patience and support I would not have been able to take on a
Nuffield Scholarship and remain sane, and my daughter Sara, who missed me
almost as much as I missed her.
The opinions expressed in this report are solely my own and are not intended
to represent the views of my employers (East Malling Research), my sponsors
(The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers) or those of the Nuffield Farming
Scholarships Trust or any other funding body. Although I am forever indebted
to all those who helped by providing me with information, and in many cases
shelter, any inaccuracies or misinterpretations in this report remain exclusively
Introduction and Background
I trained as an Agronomist at the University of León (Spain). During my degree, I
thoroughly enjoyed all fruit related topics. I also became fascinated by genetics and the
advantages of using molecular techniques for crop improvement as tools for marker-
assisted selection as well as genetic modification. As an undergraduate, I spent a year at
the University of Bologna (Italy) studying plant breeding and oenology and acquired some
laboratory experience on maize molecular genetics. In January 2001, I came to the UK on
a graduate training scheme to work at Rothamsted Research for three months. During this
period I met Ben, my partner, and got a job at East Malling Research (EMR); both have
kept me in the UK for longer than originally envisaged!
The establishment of the East Malling and Wye Fruit Experimental Station in Kent
in 1913 was driven by local fruit growers. Since then the institute has carried out
horticultural research under several funding arrangements and names. As part of HRI
(1990 – 2004), we were sponsored by Defra as a Non-Departmental Public Body but, since
this arrangement was dissolved, East Malling Research (EMR) has been a company
limited by guarantee and a registered charity. We operate as an independent provider of
top-class research, development and consultancy, and continue to serve the food chain
and various sectors of the land-based industry. Our professional and scientific team cover
a wide range of expertise including breeding and molecular genetics, pest and disease
biology and management, crop and post-harvest physiology, agronomy, environmental
science, food product development and consumer research.
In 2003, after two years working as an apple molecular geneticist, I became
increasingly involved in the raspberry breeding programme. This involvement has brought
me back to the field and to dealing with plants as a whole rather than studying only their
DNA. It has also connected me in a more direct manner with the concerns and realities
faced by UK fruit growers. I hope to continue breeding raspberries at East Malling
Research for a long time; however the future is far from certain. Funding for horticultural
research in the UK has been declining for over two decades and will continue to do so as
Defra’s research priorities shift from sustainable production systems to the development of
economic stewardship of the countryside. The changes in the horticultural sector in general
and in fruit growing in particular have been and will continue to be swift. Diversification has
become important both to the industry at large and unavoidable to EMR which leads me to
the background of my study.
When I started my study in 2006, the top-fruit industry in the UK had seen better
times. The orchard area had declined from approximately 35,000 to 15,000ha in 20
years. Whilst demand has remained at similar levels, fruit imports have increased
substantially; non-EU imports almost doubled between 1995 and 2005. The heavy
reliance on a small number of cultivars is partly to blame; ‘Cox’, ‘Bramley’ and ‘Conference’
still amount to thirty seven percent of the total apple and pear growing area, sixty four
percent if we exclude cider and perry orchards. Cost of production, especially labour, has
become the most crucial factor in competing with overseas product, as farm-gate value of
the product has barely increased since 1985. Southern hemisphere producers have a
clear advantage as they produce with lower costs but they have also invested in modern
orchards, new cultivars and promotion of their product. UK growers have not kept up as a
whole and the industry has suffered as a consequence. Obviously, there are exceptions
and the successful promotion campaign of the ‘Bramley’ apple is one of them.
In the last couple of years, we have seen some signs of recovery. The revival in
cider and perry drinking has driven the specialist orchard area up by twenty one percent1].
Growing demand for locally produced fruit has paired up with retailers’ will to show
‘greener’ credentials to increase the shelf space given to UK apples and pears. Other
hopeful signs are the increase of intensive orchards and cultivar diversification; the orchard
area dedicated to ‘Braeburn’ has increased by forty percent since 2004 (9,000t harvested
in 2007) and new premium dessert apples such as ‘Jazz’, ‘Cameo’ and ‘Kanzi’ are gaining
ground (Shamash 2007). Research investment, however, is at an all-time low: UK top-fruit
growers have done better recently but they should consider their long-term investment
strategies carefully if the sector is to fully recover.
The soft-fruit sector is at a very different stage in its development. Although the
area dedicated to berries decreased from 15,000 to 9,000ha from 1985 to 2005, the value
of the crop more than doubled during the same period. In the last 10 years, the UK soft-
fruit growers have embraced change. They have adopted new cultivars, localised
fertigation and protected cropping to extend the season and to improve quality and shelf-
life of their product.
British Summer Fruits (BSF), which represents 90 of the UK berry growers, leads a
very successful PR campaign that together with healthy eating messages and the
‘superfood’ phenomenon has materialised in an unprecedented increase in demand. Off-
season imports have helped maintain year-round product availability and, perhaps
counterintuitively, driven demand for UK product. Despite the poor weather in 2007, the
British soft fruit sector grew eleven percent in retail sales to a total of 59,000t worth £282
million. I do not need to give numbers; anybody shopping in UK supermarkets in the last
five years knows that berries are here to stay. However, the sector faces a number of
challenges in the years to come including commoditization, diminishing profit margins and
Strawberries are nowadays a commodity. Sales continue to increase (twelve
percent in 2007, according to BSF) but at a slower rate than other berries. Their market
penetration is relatively high but saturation is a real possibility in the peak of the UK
season, especially if the weather is bad. Raspberries still have great scope for increase
with less than thirty seven percent of consumers buying them and purchase frequency
under twice a month in 2006, according to Nicholas Marston (KG growers). However, the
marked production peak in early July still needs to be addressed; those planting main-
season cultivars might not see a good return for their investment. Blueberries are a prime
example of just how quickly a product can lose ‘niche’ value. They went from little-known
delicacy to buy-one-get-one-free in less than 18 months, even before UK production had a
chance to ‘get off the ground’.
The most important challenge for the berry industry is to preserve profit margins in
the face of increasing costs that no longer result in price inflation mainly due to fierce inter-
retailer competition. Availability and cost of labour - currently it can be as high as sixty
percent of total cost of production – will continue to be crucial.
Other constraints for the development of the sector could be water availability and
planning restraints on polytunnels; the wet summer of 2007 demonstrated how essential
they are for UK production. On the positive side, the emergence of ‘premium lines’ in most
retailers allows certain growers to maintain ‘niche’ value for their fruit.
The UK stone-fruit sector is comparatively small with financial results varying
greatly from year-to-year depending mostly on weather conditions. Plums are still the main
crop and the renewed interest in UK grown cherries could be successfully exploited by
planting late-fruiting cultivars to extend the currently very short season. Small plantings of
other stone fruits such as apricots seem to be increasing slowly (first commercial crop in
2007) but few data are available.
Against this complex background, the original aim of my Nuffield study was to
identify the most promising minor or novel crop for the UK fruit grower. On a more personal
level, my aim was to gather information to help position EMR’s interests and research
Originally, I was looking for the ‘new blueberry’ and in the last two years,
blackberries have established themselves as ‘such’. According to BSF data (Barnet 2007),
Blackberry sales increased forty four percent last year reaching a record value of £6m.
This value, compared to the £60m of raspberry and £216m of strawberry sales, illustrates
how low the initial market was but also what a great potential this crops has, as I will
discuss later on. However, the industry was aware of this opportunity back in 2006 which
left me to reconsider the aims of the study. I realised that a single opportunity would not be
enough either for the industry or for EMR. Whether diversification is an alternative for
individual growers or just another distraction from their main business is for each grower to
decide. It will depend on their business structure and aspirations. However, diversification
for the industry as a whole is a real opportunity; for EMR it is a necessity.
This report highlights the minor or novel crops which, I believe, have commercial
potential for UK growers and relevance for my employer.
Destinations and methodology
Nuffield has given me the opportunity to visit research institutes, fruit growers and
universities around the UK and the US (North Carolina, Arkansas, California, Oregon,
Washington State and New York). It took me from cool, wet British Columbia (Canada) to
Novi Sad, in Serbia, during one of the hottest and driest summers on record. It has also
meant that people with very interesting information, passing through the UK, have found
time to visit me and share that knowledge with me. As importantly, it has given me a
different perspective when visiting nurseries, farm shops or farmer’s markets or doing my
weekly shopping. I have been looking for the commercial formulae that allow ‘niche’
markets to be successful as much as I have been looking for the products to fill these
The first step of my research was to gather ideas from my colleagues at EMR
through a ‘brainstorming’ session. The result was a long list of possible fruit crops of
interest with some front-runners. During my travels I encountered many of these fruits and
some others and I came back with my personal favourites. I have attempted to classify
these crops giving them a score that reflects their relevance for the UK industry, in my
opinion. This score is a combination of environmental adaptation to UK conditions and
ease of growing (suitability) and commercial potential (opportunity), as illustrated in Table
1. Whilst the first parameter is reasonably objective, the second one is not. I am sure
different people would give different scores. Moreover, although this report highlights some
of the most ‘relevant crops’, it deals with them in an uneven manner, depending on the
data available to me as well as my personal preferences.
Table 1. Matrix for the assignment of ‘relevance scores’ to novel and minor crops.
High Medium Low
Good 1 2 3
Acceptable 2 3 4
Marginal 3 4 5
I have not aimed to produce a botanical treatise or an agronomy guide as that
information is readily accessible through the internet. I have mentioned, where appropriate,
if a fruit is reported to have benefits beyond those conferred by a varied healthy diet.
However, I have purposely avoided comparing chemical compositions as the data
available from different sources could have been obtained differently. Whilst common
sense, anecdotal evidence and a growing body of scientific research supports the health
benefits of eating fruit, little is known about the bioavailability and effects of many of the
most ‘popular’ compounds such as anthocyanins and polyphenols.
The substantial increase in fruit consumption as a result of ‘5-a-day’ and similar
campaigns has not been matched by the vegetable sector. I believe the main reasons for
that are convenience and flavour. Although many consumers will try a product for its
perceived health benefits alone, repeated purchase is driven by product satisfaction. As far
as fruit is concerned, consumer satisfaction after purchase is much more to do with
texture, aroma and shelf-life than with vitamin or polyphenol content. So, without negating
any heath benefits or their potential as a marketing tool, I have not taken them into
consideration when rating the crops in this report.
Table 2. Minor and novel fruit crops of potential interest to UK growers, their uses and suitability score.
Binomial name Common
Name(s) Uses* Brief description and/or comments Relevance
Actinidia arguta Hardy Kiwi, Kiwi-
F Dioecious vines, grape size green berry. 1
Sambucus spp Elderberry,
P Deciduous shrub or tree. Some traditional medicinal use in Europe and North
Asimina triloba Common Paw-
Paw F/P Temperate tree native to North America. Fruit is a large exotically-flavoured berry. 1-2
Opuntia spp Prickly pear,
F/P/N Some of these cactus species grow well in temperate conditions. Fruits must be
pealed very carefully to avoid the ingestion of spines. Some reported medicinal
Lonicera caerulea Haskap, Edible
F/P Deciduous shrub. Very early season. Fruit resembles blueberry but very different
flavour, almost zesty. Derived traditional products reach high prices in Japan.
Cornus mas Cornelian cherry P Temperate-Mediterranean deciduous shrub or small tree. Added ornamental value.
Produces small red berries that are very astringent when under-ripe. Derived
traditional products reach high prices in the Balkans.
Diospyros kaki Persimmon,
F Deciduous tree, sufficient winter hardiness for UK although it will fruit properly only
in hot summers; might increase interest in the future. Already sold in the UK.
Hippophae rhamnoides Sea buckthorn,
P/N Dioecious shrub or small tree. Used in Chinese medicine. Problematic harvesting. 2
Table 2 (continuation)
Binomial name Common
Name(s) Uses* Brief description and/or comments Relevance
Vaccinium spp Blueberries F/P Encompasses several cultivated species. Tremendous demand increase in last 5
years. Although restricted to acidic soils or containers, UK production continues to
grow. It could be restricted by high volumes produced at lower cost within the EU.
Other Vaccinium spp Cranberry,
F/P Similar in requirements to blueberries. Limited demand that is unlikely to grow
substantially. They are more interesting as nursery plants as they combine
ornamental and edible attributes. Trehane (2004) is a good reference for those
interested in this botanical family.
Ribes spp and hybrids Blackcurrant,
F/P Deciduous shrubs generally well adapted to UK conditions, except cultivars with
very high chilling requirements. Many traditional derived products could be
promoted. Some hybrids (Jostaberries) are palatable fresh and USDA repository at
Corvallis is considering naming a couple of promising ones.
Punica granatum Pomegranate F/P/N Best suited to hot climates where it is produced at low cost; good shelf-life. 4-5
Ficus carica Fig F/P Mediterranean tree, potential for picking closer to maturity and improve flavour.
New cultivars (eg ‘Violetta’) are fairly well suited to UK and will crop more reliably
Morus nigra, M. alba,
M. rubra Black, White and
P Well adapted trees/shrubs with a very long juvenile period. Very labour intensive to
harvest and process.
Amelanchier spp Saskatoon,
F/P Tree or large bush. Fruit resemble a blueberry. Very winter hardy. Derived
traditional products reach high prices in areas of Canada.
Aronia melanocarpa Aronia,
P Tree or large bush. It can be grown as a hedge for mechanical harvest. Interesting
as a natural colorant for juices, smoothies and dairy products. Large plantings in
Eastern Europe and US, could trade as a commodity very quickly.
Chaenomeles japonica Japanese quince P/F Ornamental tree or bush. The fruit of some cultivars is pleasantly ‘lemon-
Cydonia oblonga Quince P/F Traditional crop ready for a revival. 2-3
Mespilus germanica Medlar P/F Traditional crop ready for a revival. 2-3
Prunus armeniaca Apricot F/P Mediterranean tree, potential for picking closer to maturity and improve flavour. 3-4
Table 2 (continuation)
Binomial name Common
Name(s) Uses* Brief description and/or comments Relevance
Prunus maritima Beach plum P Deciduous shrub or small tree native to US Eastern costal regions. Similar to
damson and Kea plum. Derived traditional products reach high prices in the US.
Prunus persica Peach/Nectarine F/P Mediterranean tree, potential for picking closer to maturity and improve flavour. 3-4
Pyrus pyrifolia and P.
bretschneideri Asian pear, Nashi
& Chinese white
F/P Cultivation is similar to that of the European pear. Very good texture but usually
bland. The hybridise with European pear opening opportunities for breeding more
Rubus occidentalis, R.
leucodermis Blackcap, Black
F/P/N Deciduous trailing shrub, black round fruits very similar to red raspberries. 2
Rubus spp Blackberries F/P Deciduous shrub, black round fruits; unlike raspberries they retain the receptacle
Other Rubus spp and
F/P In general, very aromatic with unique flavours. Most will grow well in UK conditions
but shelf-life is normally poor. Interesting for small processing operations or PYO.
Lycium barbarum Wolfberry, Goji
P/N Deciduous shrub, small orange-red berries. 2
Physalis peruviana Physalis, Cape
F/P Perennial plant in tropical conditions. It can be grown as an annual crop outdoors
in UK. Grape-sized golden berry in dry husk.
Vitis vinifera Wine grapes P Dioecious or hermaphrodite vines. Great potential but climatic adaptation not
optimum yet. Trialling and testing new cultivars (e.g. ‘Albariño’, ‘Treixadura’, or
‘Godello’ from Northern Spain) could improve quality and diversify offer.
* Common uses of the fruit: Fresh consumption (F), Processing (P) and/or Potential Nutraceutical interest (N). Characters in bold denote the
use of most commercial interest.
† As per Table 1.
All crops taken into consideration for this report are summarised in Table 2. I have
organised my findings into two main sections. The first part deals with novel or minor crops
for the UK: some detail is given about the five crops I believe to have the most promise,
namely blackberry, black raspberry, hardy kiwi, paw-paw and haskap. Other crops are also
briefly discussed. The second part of this section deals with three crops (beach plum,
cornelian cherry and saskatoon) that could be grown in the UK but that I find more
interesting as examples of successful marketing of traditional product and the opportunities
this suggests to me.
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus, R. ursinus, R. argutus and hybrids)
Blackberries are hardly a novel crop; they have been harvested from the wild
across Europe and the Americas for hundreds if not thousands of years. Early breeding
efforts concentrated in increasing fruit size and yield but the poor flavour of many of these
cultivars has limited the expansion of the crop. However, three factors have come together
to change this situation: the availability of improved cultivars, the ‘superfoods’ boom and,
for the future, the introduction of primocane fruiting cultivars.
• Several breeding programmes have developed and continue to work on cultivars
with much better flavour; those remembering the ‘aromas’ of wild blackberries need
• The interest in ‘superfoods’, that has benefited all berries, has increased consumer
demand for blackberries by about three hundred percent in three years according to
Adrian Wallbridge (The Summerfruit Company).
• The advent of primocane fruiting cultivars has not yet affected the market but could
have a tremendous impact in the next 10 to 15 years. Traditional cultivars fruit on
the previous year’s cane, as do main season raspberries. The introduction in
breeding programmes of germplasm that fruits later in the season on the tips of the
same year canes (in the same way that autumn fruiting raspberries do) offers
enormous possibilities for season extension and manipulation. At the moment,
primocane cultivars (Prime-JimTM& Prime-JanTM) have been released only to the US
amateur market, but we can expect commercial ones to become available in the UK
in next few years.
Whilst in the US, I visited three world-leading Rubus breeding programmes: at
University of Arkansas, Driscolls (California) and the USDA’s Northwest Center for Small
Fruit Research (Oregon). All three reported an increased interest in blackberries, all three
have exciting new cultivars either released and/or in the pipeline.
Several cultivars developed by Prof. John Clark at University of Arkansas
(‘Arapahoe’, ‘Navaho’, ‘Apache’ and ‘Ouachita’) are now available to UK growers and they
represent a significant improvement on the flavour of cultivars such as ‘Loch Ness’ and
‘Chester’. However, the most exciting blackberry flavours I came across are those
concocted by Dr Chad Finn in Oregon. His breeding programme revolves around the
trailing western blackberry (R. ursinus) and cultivars such as ‘Kotata’, ‘Black Pearl’,
‘Obsidian’ and ‘Black Diamond’ are the result. ‘Black Diamond’ and several of his
advanced selections such as ORUS1523-4 (to be named soon) and ORUS1793-1 are a
joy to eat and I hope they will be available in the UK in future.
Figure 1. Blackberry ‘Obsidian’
Figure 2. Blackberry selection ‘ORUS1793-1’ USDA breeding programme in Oregon (USA)
Black Raspberry (Rubus leucodermis and R. occidentalis)
This shrub bears many similarities to its close relative the red raspberry (R. idaeus)
but the shoots are spinier than those of most red raspberry cultivars, they have a tendency
towards trailing habit and do not usually sucker. The fruit is round, black and relatively
small (up to 2.5g). They can be quite seedy but their low acidity and very aromatic, ‘wild’
flavour make them a great eating experience.
Black raspberries have the potential to be highly profitable both for processing and
for the fresh market in the UK. Most of the US production is mechanically harvested in
Oregon for processing with small volumes of fresh berries from other areas going to local
or high-value markets such as New York City. They are a high value crop with a farm gate
value up to $12,000 per acre in peak production seasons. However, establishment costs
are high and it can take over two years to recover the capital investment (Weber 2006).
Plantation life will vary greatly depending on pest and disease status. Productivity is
considerably lower than that of the red raspberry partly due to pest susceptibility, although
that might not be the case in the UK where different aphid species colonise raspberries.
Black raspberries are well known for their high content of anthocyanins (natural
pigments used as dyes and antioxidants) as well as ellagic acid. There is a great deal of
interest in the potential nutraceutical uses of this fruit. Ongoing research at Ohio State
University using black raspberry extracts to determine the benefit for cancer treatment in
mammalian test systems has lead to the first clinical trials on patients with digestive tract
cancer with encouraging preliminary results (Wagner 2001).
After years of obscurity, research on this crop seems to be recovering at Cornell
University (NY) and USDA-Corvallis where wild black raspberry germplasm is being
collected, characterised and incorporated into the breeding programmes. Breeding efforts
concentrate on improving pest and disease tolerance and increasing fruit size as well as
producing spine-free and primocane fruiting types. We can expect improved cultivars to be
released in the next 5 to 10 years. Current cultivars include ‘Munger’, ‘Jewel’, ‘New Logan’
and ‘Mac Black’. I was pleasantly surprised by this fruit when I first tried it in Oregon and,
by the time I got to Cornell (NY), I was a convert.
The main restraints for the UK
grower would be the lack of
easily available plant material
and the high susceptibility to
Verticillium wilt but neither is
insurmountable. Plant imports
from the US are difficult to
arrange but not impossible
moreover some cultivars can be
obtained from EU nurseries and
introduced under plant passport
regulations. The easiest way to
avoid soil pathogens would be to
grow them in pots. Alternatively,
finding inoculum-free soils can
be difficult (Verticillium is a
persistent pathogen with many
hosts) but pre-planting soil
treatments with chloropicrin are
Figure 3. Black raspberry ‘Munger’.
Hardy Kiwi (Actinidia arguta)
This plant is a close relative of the standard ‘fuzzy’ kiwi (A. deliciosa) and the rarer
golden kiwi (A. chinensis) and its cultivation in the UK should not present major difficulties
as it thrives in the milder areas of the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of the US and British
Columbia (Moulton 2006). The fruits are oval with a smooth brownish or reddish green skin
and green flesh. They are the size of a large cherry (5-12g) and are eaten with the skin on.
They are sweet and aromatic; the flavour resembles that of the golden kiwi and many
prefer it to the standard green ones. They are grown much like standard ‘fuzzy’ kiwis and
the vines tolerate low winter temperatures (down to -25°C) without damage.
The vines are vigorous and require intensive pruning and training in trellises to
obtain optimum yields around 23t/ha. Male pollinators such as ‘Meader’ are also
required. In Canada and the PNW, hardy kiwi is fairly susceptible to soil pathogens such
as Verticillium but otherwise remains pest and disease free during the growing season
and I would expect the same to be true in the UK making them interesting for organic
production. Establishment costs in Canada are about $15,000 per ha and it is estimated
that the recovery of this investment occurs after two harvests. The fruit should be picked
while hard (soluble solids should be around eight percent) and put in cold storage. They
can be ripened either in storage or on the market shelf (Moulton 2006).
The most commonly
grown cultivar, ‘Ananasnaya’
(Anna), is very productive and
tends to be harvested in early
to mid September in the PNW
although fruit would not reach
full maturity until mid October.
Earlier-ripening cultivars are
needed for the fruit to be
consumed without storage.
Other high yielding cultivars
include 'Dumbarton Oaks' and
'Geneva'. The self-pollinating
cultivar 'Issai' is highly rated
for its superior flavour but
fruits are small. 'Michigan'
with large (up to 12g)
elongated fruits is a promising
addition but more yield data
This is one of the most
promising of the novel crops
in this report. Market response
in Canada has been good and
premium prices have been
paid by wholesalers and
Figure 4. Hardy kiwi ‘Ananasnaya’
It was retailed for the first time by Waitrose in 2007 and I hope to see it again in
2008. Plants are available from several suppliers in the UK as well as Holland. EMR is in
the process of establishing a 0.2 ha plot and I would expect to see some commercial size
plantings across the country in the next few years.
Paw-Paw (Asimina triloba)
This deciduous tree is also known as Papaw, Poor Man's Banana or Hoosier
Banana and should not be confused with the tropical papaya (Carica papaya) sometimes
also known as pawpaw. The common paw-paw is native to the temperate woodlands of
the Eastern US and thrives in a humid continental climate. It prefers neutral or acid soils,
requires a minimum of 400 hours of winter chill to break buds and around 160 frost-free
days for the fruit to reach maturity although this varies between cultivars. Paw-paws have
been reported to be sensitive to low humidities, dry winds and cool maritime summers.
However they have been successfully grown in parts of California and the Pacific
Northwest  and can be found in some UK gardens. They are winter hardy and can be
grown on their own roots or, preferably, grafted on seedlings.
The paw-paw is the largest edible fruit native to America and the only temperate
member of the Custard Apple family (Annonaceae), which includes many tropical and
subtropical fruits such as guanabanas, cherimoyas, sugar apples and atemoyas. The paw-
paw bears a striking similarity in sweetness, aroma, consistency and flavour to these
fruits. Individual fruits are oval or elongated, measure 7-15cm in length and weigh
between 140 and 400g. They are normally produced in clusters of 3 or 4 fruits.
The ripe fruits have melting yellow flesh and thin skin with many large dark seeds in
the middle. At their best, paw-paws have a complex, tropical flavour completely surprising
in a temperate fruit. Once ripe, they are perishable at room temperature (2-3 days) but can
be kept much longer if refrigerated.
Paw-paw trees are mostly free of pest and disease in their natural habitat and could
be of interest for organic production in the US and elsewhere. Cultivation in commercial
orchards is just beginning in the US as gourmet fruit markets and restaurants expand the
demand. Although many people enjoy this fruit, allergic reactions have been reported.
In addition to the promotion of a novel product, the main constraints for commercial
cultivation in the UK would be the length of the season and pollination problems. Trials
would be needed to identify the cultivars best suited to UK conditions. Pollination issues
could be more problematic. Paw-paws require cross-pollination: although the flowers are
perfect, male and female parts mature at different time; moreover they are self-
incompatible so a different cultivar is needed for pollination. Unfortunately, bees are not
very interested in these flowers and other insects do not appear to be very efficient in
natural or garden conditions so some research might be needed in this area. Cultivars of
interest include ‘Overlesse’ (excellent flavour, large fruited and moderately early) and
‘Sunflower’ (self-fertile but with smaller fruit and later season) as well as ‘Prolific’, ’Mitchell’,
‘Sweet Alice’ and ‘Taylor’.
The fruit could be marketed for fresh sales and, possibly, as a flavouring in juices
and dairy products. I think it could have great potential in the UK as a source of low food-
miles exotic flavour. Plant material is available in some UK and EU nurseries.
Figure 5. Paw-paw ‘Sunflower’. Image courtesy of Mr. Clive Simms
Haskap (Lonicera caerulea)
Also known as Blue Honeysuckle or Edible Honeysuckle, Haskaps are one of the
many species of the honeysuckle family. They have been widely harvested in regions of
China and northern Eurasia from ancient times. They are the base of many traditional
delicacies in Hokkaido (northern island of the Japanese archipelago) where wild-growing
plants provided one of the few fruits available to the Aniu people. They appreciated their
taste and also recognized their high nutritional value. In 1967, the Japanese began a
programme to domesticate this fruit.
Haskap belongs in the subspecies L. caerulea ssp. emphyllocalyx. Russian
scientists have developed many cultivars mainly from the Russian subspp. edulis and
kamtschatica, which are well adapted to the severely cold regions of Russia, but not to
more moderate climates. A few of these are currently being marketed in North America as
"honeyberries" and should not be confused with the superior genotypes originated from
Prof. Maxine Thompson introduced Japanese selections to the US in 2000 and she
is responsible for an outstanding breeding programme in Corvallis that is an inspiration to
any under-funded plant breeder. More recently, breeding work is also carried out by Dr
Bob Bors at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
Haskap plants are long-lived, deciduous shrubs that grow to about 1.8-2m high.
They resemble high-bush blueberries in growth habit and size. They are winter-hardy and
very early blooming (March to early April in Oregon) and the flower can withstand light to
medium frost without damage. Plants are self-incompatible so it is necessary to plant two
different cultivars for cross-pollination, generally carried out by bumble bees.
Fruits mature very early, before or at the same time as early strawberry cultivars.
Most cultivars and selections ripen in May and early June. When I visited Prof. Thompson,
in the 3rd week of June 2007, we harvested her latest selection. Although for the fresh
market multiple harvests would be needed, on some bushes the first fruits to mature
remain on the bush until all others are ripe enough; this could allow a single mechanical
harvest. Moreover, the berries shake very easily from the bush making them ideal for that
process and blackcurrant or raspberry harvesting machines could be used.
Fruits are similar to blueberries in colour and size although they tend to be more
elongated, varying from oval or oblong to cylindrical, with seeds that are small and not
noticeable. Fruit size ranges from 0.5 - 2.0g and texture varies greatly between cultivars;
some selections are firm enough to be stored for 2 weeks.
The appearance of bush and berry are misleading when it comes to flavour. They
are more acidic than blueberries and their aroma is much more intense making them ideal
for processing. Some selections are very pleasant to eat fresh. I was astounded by the
‘wildness’ of flavour in these little berries and intrigued by the possibilities offered by such
an early season. It appears reasonably free of disease whilst birds are the biggest pest.
To my knowledge, UK suppliers only provide material from the Russian types.
However, some of the seedlings from Prof. Thompson’s breeding programme are currently
being grown in the UK and EMR is likely to introduce some more next year. Watch this
Figure 6. Late ripening Haskap selection (USDA – Corvallis)
Other crops of interest:
Sea-buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)
Also known as sandthorn or seaberry, this deciduous spiny shrub or small tree is
widely spread across China, Russia, Finland, Central Asia, Pakistan and India and has
been introduced to western Europe and North America.
The fruit are yellow or orange berries rich in vitamins C and E, carotenoids,
polyphenols and essential amino-acids. The oils and other fruit extracts have been used in
traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Its wide adaptation, fast growth and strong
nitrogen-fixing properties make it a good choice for marginal areas where it can have a
beneficial effect on wildlife.
A natural sea buckthorn habitat can yield from 750 to 1,500kg/ha of berries,
shelterbelt plantings 4-5t/ha and orchards up to 12t/ha (Ahah pers. comm.). It is winter
hardy and vigorous and grows easily in coastal areas of the UK. It can also been spotted
growing densely in the roadsides of Crawley (West Sussex).
Many products derived from the sea buckthorn berries are commercialised in
Germany such as liquors, jellies and jams and even cosmetics. However, it is the well
reported medicinal properties of the oils and plant extracts (Zeb 2004, 2006, Wang 2006)
that could make this crop worth harvesting, currently an extremely labour intensive and
arduous task. Special mechanical harvesters were developed in East Germany (Gilbert et
al 2003) that remove and feed entire branches into the machine where the fruit is ‘shaken’
off the woody stem, but they have not been used elsewhere to my knowledge.
Several UK suppliers stock a range of cultivars.
Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana)
This fruit, lately ubiquitous in buffet lunches and fashionable desserts, is a member
of the Solanaceae and therefore distantly related to tomatoes, peppers and the
nightshades. Other species of physalis are grown as ornamentals in many countries or
fought as invasive weeds.
All the fruit currently sold in the UK comes from Colombia where it can grow as a
perennial, but it was grown in English gardens as early as 1774. Under temperate
conditions, it is best grown as an annual crop in much the same way as tomatoes. The
plants are easily grown in pots and adapt well to greenhouse culture. They could also be
advanced under glass and planted outdoors for the frost-free period.
After the flower falls, the calyx expands, forming the characteristic lantern-like husk
that encloses the fruit. Trials carried out in Portugal identified the need for pruning and the
reduction in fruit quality in high humidity as the husk loses its appeal (Oliveira pers.
comm.). It can be eaten fresh when ripe and it makes an interesting ingredient in salads
and cooked dishes. High pectin content makes cape gooseberry a good preserve and jam
product. It can also be used in desserts or dried.
Commercial growing would be relatively labour-intensive but could be part of a
diversified operation supplying the hospitality sector with local product. Plants are available
in the UK from several nurseries.
Goji berry (Lycium barbarum)
This bush from the Solanaceae family has been increasingly mentioned as a
‘superfood’ or exotic functional food since 2005. Although it is also known as Chinese
wolfberry, Tibetan goji or Himalayan goji, this plant probably originated in southeastern
Europe and it is now grown all over the world.
Gojis have been naturalized as an ornamental and semi-edible plant in the UK for
nearly 300 years. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) ruled in June 2007 that there
was significant history of the fruit being consumed in Europe before 1997 and therefore
removed it from the Novel Foods list. It is now legal to sell the goji berry in the UK as a
Gojis have long played important roles in traditional Chinese medicine where they
are believed to enhance immune system function, improve eyesight, protect the liver, boost
sperm production and improve circulation, among other effects (Gross et al 2006).
Preliminary reports on the health benefit of goji berries that mention anti-cancer properties
amongst others are been carefully scrutinized in the US by the Food and Drug
I have never tried these berries fresh and I was not too excited about the juice. I
find the dried fruit extremely disappointing and not pleasant to eat unless they are thickly
coated in dark chocolate. However, there might be a market for UK gojis and several
nurseries have plants available.
Figure 7. Sea buckthorn growing in Crawley. Image courtesy of Mr. Asad Ahah
Figure 8. Goji berries in dark chocolate retailed in the US
This section is dedicated to three crops that exploit the value of traditional products
in different countries: cornelian cherry in Serbia, saskatoon in Canada and beach plum in
the US. All three could be grown in the UK as novel crops following some cultivar trials and
a market development campaign, but I want to draw attention to them for a different
reason; they make interesting case studies of the economical potential of traditional
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)
The Cornelian cherry, a close relative of the dogwood, is a shrub or small tree from
central Europe that can easily grow in most soils and positions. The flowers emerge from
bare stems in late winter to early spring and it has a high ornamental value. The berries
have traditionally been harvested from forests across the Balkans and central Europe.
Although the fully ripe fruit of some bushes can be eaten raw, in most cases it is far
too astringent and is transformed into jams and jellies. It can also be preserved in brine,
like olives. Work carried out at the University of Novi Sad, mainly through selection of elite
wild germplasm (Ognjanov et al. 2004), is supporting the revival of this crop in Serbia
where a few small orchards are being planted as an alternative to wild harvest.
Cornelian cherry products are considered a speciality and are not always easy to
source. Prices at gift shops and airports are high by UK standards and much more so for
Figure 9. Cornelian cherry jelly (as retailed in Serbia) and wild fruit sample
Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Also known as juneberry, serviceberry or shadberry, these berries grow on tall
bushes in northwest Canada. They resemble blueberries although they are not related and
their flavour is quite different: not quite as sweet and with a slight nutty hint to them.
The fruit can be eaten fresh but
they are more commonly processed into
pies (a delicacy in Saskatchewan), jams,
sauces and even cider. They are very
popular in areas of Canada not least
because of their sensational nutritional
Commercial production dates from the
1960s and it has been intensely
promoted by the Saskatchewan Fruit
Growers Association and has now
extended to other areas of Canada.
Mr Jarvis Blushke from Blue Sky Farm in
Saskatchewan would like to see
production move into Europe in the near
future and he is a willing contact for
Figure 10. Saskatoon berry ‘JB30’. Image courtesy of Mr Jarvis Blushke
Beach Plum (Prunus maritima)
This shrub is native to coastal dunes of the North-eastern US. The fruit resembles
damsons and it has been collected from the wild for making preserves and jelly since
colonial times. In 2001, native stands supported a cottage industry in the Northeast US and
researchers at Cornell University set up a project to bring it into commercial production.
The goal of the ‘beach plum project’ was to develop an integrated system for a
sustainable beach plum industry (fruit production and elaboration of added value products)
as well as developing niche markets for these products. This ambitious project was funded
by the USDA through the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Program amongst other organizations and it has required the involvement and coordination
of growers, processors and retailers. Their internet site is really interesting and Dr
Whitlow a very good source of information and ideas.
The promotion side of the project involved New York City chefs and other end
users and it has produced some very illuminating consumer research. They found that
the ‘niche’ market opportunity and price return could only be maintained by avoiding
production volumes that would attract industrial processors and large retailers. Therefore,
joint research and promotion but individual labelling and presentation of the product seem
to be the keys for success. Currently, several grower associations are involved in small-
batch production and the Cornell University Orchard harvests sufficient fruit from their
germplasm collection to produce over 350kg of delicious jam per season.
UK traditional products:
Saskatoons, Cornellian cherries, beach plums and haskaps are all raw ingredients
for ‘niche’ products in the countries where they have been historically consumed. The
Canadian, Serbian, US and Japanese markets are different in many respects but they
have all been able to accommodate traditional speciality products at the high end of the
The UK food market is highly developed. In the last ten years, the proliferation of
celebrity chefs combined with healthy eating campaigns set the scene for the emergence
of a ‘foodie’ culture. A larger proportion of consumers are now prepared to pay more for
flavour, provenance or heritage as demonstrated by the proliferation of premium ranges in
all multiples. Perhaps it is time to take advantage of this trend and breathe new life into old
classics. I would like to see more gooseberry, rhubarb and damson products in main-
stream retailers and more small brands commercialising local specialities. Some
processors already have very successful products along these lines. I understand that
Tiptree’s mulberry conserve is very popular and I have recently come across a small
processor in Cornwall making, amongst others, Kea plum jelly.
Quince (Cydonia oblonga) and Medlar (Mespilus germanica) would benefit from a
well co-ordinated ‘revival’ campaign. They are both well adapted to the UK and have been
grown here for hundreds of
years; medlars were mentioned
by Chaucer and Shakespeare.
They are both very tasty and,
because they stay on the tree for
a long time, require little storage
Quince fruits are hard and
astringent but incredibly aromatic
and some modern cultivars are
reported to be palatable raw.
Figure 11. Quince ‘Seker Gevrek’ growing in Corvallis (Oregon – US)
Medlars are acid and hard until
they are softened (bletted) by frost or in
storage if kept for long enough. When
they are ready to eat, the skin wrinkles
and turns dark brown, and the pulp
reduces to a consistency and flavour
reminiscent of apple sauce. They used to
be eaten at Christmas and afterwards,
when all other fruit was finished; a
perfect low carbon foot-print crop.
Figure 11. Medlar ‘Rašna’ growing in the Novi Sad region (Serbia)
This is a good time for the UK market to accept novel fruit crops.
We can benefit from increased interest in healthy eating. Also, consumers have
become more adventurous with fruit and they appreciate a wider choice of fresh
Hardy kiwis, Haskaps, Black raspberries and Paw-paws are real alternatives.
I believe they all hold real possibilities for the UK fruit industry. Each has unique selling
points and any one of them could join blueberries and blackberries as part of main
stream commercial UK production provided the industry seizes the opportunity they
offer and is prepared to invest in their development.
Other novel/minor crops could find profitable ‘niche’ markets.
Product diversification is not the only way but can be a very successful business
strategy. Fruits such as sea-buckthorn, goji, or certain Mediterranean crops like
apricots and figs (with a bit of help from climate change), can have a place in UK
production and will offer some growers excellent opportunities.
Provenance and traceability influence consumer and retailer decisions.
‘Food miles’ was an unknown term a few years ago. Nowadays retailers have started
labelling air-freighted food. In the future, carbon foot-print labels will be used to assess
the environmental credentials of our food. Growing fruit nearer the consumer under a
sustainable production system will allow UK growers to capitalise on ‘green-purchase’.
Tradition is a valuable asset in marketing high added-value products.
Historically important crops currently out of fashion could be ideal candidates for ‘niche’
market development. It is being done already and could and, in my opinion, should be
Novel food regulations can be a hurdle but need not deter investment.
A novel food is defined as a food or food ingredient which does not have a significant
history of consumption within the EU before May 1997. All novel foods are subject to a
pre-market safety assessment under the novel foods regulation (EC) 258/97. In the UK
the ACNFP (FSA) carries out all novel food assessments and they can take up to two
years. However, a simplified application can be made where the new product can be
considered similar enough to an existing one. Moreover, the ever-expanding EU
provides further countries where the product could have been consumed before 1997.
For example, in 2004 the FSA blocked the sale of Saskatoon berry products not
considering them equivalent to blueberries. Their decision was overturned by the EU
as Saskatoons have been consumed in Finland much earlier than 1997.
Quality, Continuity and Communication are key sustainable businesses.
Continuity of supply is probably the biggest challenge for fresh fruit producers.
Seasonality is part of the very nature of their business but many actions can be taken
to reduce the problems associated with it. Commodity products use imports and
season extension to reduce seasonality to a minimum. For ‘niche’ products the most
obvious strategy is turning seasonality into a marketing tool.
To capitalise on ‘niche’ market opportunities, no compromises are admissible in either
quality of the product or communication within the supply chain.
Combine efforts to secure funding for rigorous trialling of new germplasm.
The value of independent cultivar trials is well known to the fruit industry. This will be
particularly important when dealing with completely new crops where little local
experience is available.
Compile information and contacts into a user-friendly resource.
A wealth of information can be sourced from the internet, books, leaflets, reports or
simply by contacting the right person. The next step involves filtering, analysing and
compiling this information and transforming it into guidelines and best practice guides.
As importantly, a platform is needed to put and keep in contact all the stakeholders
involved or interested in the introduction, promotion and development of novel fruit
crops so that propagators, growers, processors and retailers can best work together.
Identify new crop(s) of interest to specific businesses.
This could be a new investment to diversify current operations or a complementary
crop to fit in the current business structure, for example to increase the use of
mechanical harvesters. Particular thought must be given to the commercialisation
routes for the product, even if no fruit is expected for several years.
Carry out a realistic sensitivity analysis.
A full breakdown of the diversification cost is required. It is all too easy to ‘hide’ costs by
absorbing them into an ongoing business. Financial conclusions reached in that
manner are often misleading and do not hold true when increasing the size of the new
operation. Use conservative yield estimates when calculating the all-important ‘break-
even’ price for the new product and allow for management and labour learning curves.
Research your market opportunities carefully.
Retail prices for fresh product can be very attractive but labour costs constantly drive
profit margin down; adding value to ‘second class’ or mechanically-harvested fruit by
processing could be a more profitable option.
Developing an effective commercialisation chain.
Find out about small processors to interest them in the new product. Ensure up-to-date
information about the availability of your product reaches customers in advance and
during the season. A good relationship with local retailers, a successful farmers market
in your area or your own farm-shop could make all the difference to the success of a
Invest in the presentation of the product.
Careful handling of fresh fruit to optimise shelf-life is a must. Using ‘environmentally-
friendly’ packaging and ‘low food-miles’ labels can attract a premium sector of the
market. ‘Niche’ markets are about buying ‘ideas’ and ‘experiences’ as well as food; this
could include labels with information about the origins of the plant, traditional uses, etc.
Ensure excellent product quality and flavour.
Introducing a new food product in the current market will entail not only interesting the
customer but ensuring their satisfaction and enjoyment. In the long term, consumers
will buy food because of its eating quality. Health benefits and other considerations are
important but not the number 1 factor, particularly for the most discerning consumers.
Barnett S (2007) Blackberry sales up 44% percent as part of UK soft fruit boom.
Horticulture Week 8 Nov: 26
Gross PM, Zhang X, Zhang R. (2006) Nature's Bounty of Nutrition and Health (Chapters 6
and 7) Booksurge Publishing, Charleston, SC, USA
Gilbert J, Gardner L (2003) Commercial potential and development of new berry crops: an
overview. Acta. Hort. 626: 377 – 381
Moulton GA, King J (2006) New alternative fruit crops for Western Washington.
Washington State University Extension EB2002
Ognjanov V, Cerović S (2004) Selection and utilization of minor fruit tree species. Act.
Hort. 663: 569 – 573
Peterson, R. N. 1991. Pawpaw (Asimina). In: J. N. Moore and J. R. Ballington (eds.).
Genetic resources of temperate fruit and nut trees. Acta. Hort. 290: 567 – 600
Shamash J (2007) British top fruit makes a comeback Horticulture Week 20 Dec: 34 – 35
Trehane J (2004) Blueberries, Cranberries, and Other Vacciniums. RHS/Timber Press, UK
Wagner H (2001) Black raspberries show multiple defences in thwarting cancer.
onCampus 31: 9 [http://oncampus.osu.edu/v31n9/discoveries.html]
Wang ZY, Luo XL, He CP (2006) Management of burn wounds with Hippophae
rhamnoides oil [Chinese with English abst.] Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 26: 124 –
Weber C. (2006) Black Raspberry: Potential Pitfalls and Progress. Mass. Berry Notes.
October 1. 18(15): 3 – 5
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Sci 4: 687-693
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recent literature, Asian Pacific J Cancer Prev 7: 32 – 5
Further information and reading:
Finn C (1999) Temperate Berry Crops. Perspectives on new crops and new uses In: J
Janick (ed.), ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.
Ilbery B, Kneafsey M (2000) Producer constructions of quality in regional speciality food
production: a case study from south west England. Journal of Rural Studies 16: 217 – 230
Lefol EB (2007) Haskap Market Development – The Japanese Opportunity. University of
Saskatchewan. MBA thesis.
MacTavish H (2007) New opportunities for UK horticultural producers. HDC General report
Uva RH (2004) Taming the wild beach plum. Arnoldia 62: 11 – 19
http://www.pfaf.org Plants For A Future