The British strawberry season has finally arrived after the recent unseasonable weather delayed ripening, but consumers have been promised bigger and juicier fruit as a result.
The berry season officially starts on May 1 and lasts until the end of September, but a cooler winter and spring led to strawberry flowering and ripening to occur a little more gradually, industry body British Summer Fruits said.
However the slowing growing process has resulted in “larger, juicier, but just as tasty British strawberries this year”.
Britons are buying more fresh strawberries than ever, spending £772 million on them over the last 12 months, 10% up on the year before.
The British berry industry is now worth £1.69 billion.
Britain is now self-sufficient in strawberries from May to October.
Around 70% of all strawberries bought in the UK are now grown by British farmers, British Summer Fruits figures show.
The strawberry season was only six weeks long 25 years ago, but industry investment has extended this period to up to nine months.
Early batches of strawberries are normally grown in the warmer climates of Kent, Sussex and Wales.
But computerised glasshouse technology is allowing producers in Lancashire and Scotland to be among the first to deliver fruit to retailers.
British Summer Fruits chairman Nick Marston said: “This year strawberries have developed a little more slowly than usual.
“The recent cooler weather is resulting in tasty but also larger and juicier British strawberries than previous years.
“We are excited that our continuously advancing growing techniques, such as large-scale glasshouse production for season extension, means we can offer shoppers these locally grown fresh berries for more of the year.”
Waitrose said its first British strawberries – the Lusa variety, grown in glasshouses – went on sale in March.
A spokeswoman said: “We are very nearly 100% British on our strawberries with a whole range of different varieties. The weather has been really challenging this year for all of our growers so we have been flexible with our size specifications to make sure as much of the crop gets to our shops.
“It’s been really tough as plants have either been damaged by frost or the strawberries are ripening very slowly due to the poor temperatures and light levels. We are really hoping for some sunshine soon.”
Dr Emma Derbyshire, public health nutritionist and adviser to British Summer Fruits said: “Strawberries are a great provider of vitamin C and have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory profiles – eating just seven strawberries (108g) can provide all of your recommended daily vitamin C intake.
“As it’s now British strawberry season, it’s the perfect time to taste naturally sweet berries and reap their potential health benefits.”
Forecasters say this month could be one of the wettest Mays on record, surpassing 1967, when 131.7mm of rain fell across the UK.
It follows April becoming one of the frostiest months in the UK in 60 years, with provisional figures showing an average of 13 days of air frosts reported across the country, topping the 11 days seen in April 1970.