U.K.: CPM awaits EU approval for berry that officially 'doesn't exist'

Editor's Choice More News Most Read Today's Headline
U.K.: CPM awaits EU approval for berry that officially 'doesn't exist'

AG Thames subsidiary CPM Retail has been growing an antioxidant-rich berry in U.K. and Poland that is not yet recognized as a food in the EU. The company's production of haskap, also known as the blue honeysuckle, has so far been sold mostly in Canada but the group is on the hunt for new export markets as cultivation ramps up.

"In the U.K. it's treated like a novel food, like a berry that doesn’t exist," says CPM berry division supply chain director Rachel Montague-Ebbs. haskap-photo-soloberry

Speaking with www.freshfruitportal.com during Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong, she said the berry - native to Japan and far eastern Russia - looked like an elongated blueberry with a flavor that was kind of a mix of raspberries and elderflowers.

"It's got twice as many antioxidants as wild blueberries and three times as much iron so it’s really popular in the health conscious countries," she said, adding it was also perceived as beneficial for eyesight in Japan .

"We're trying to sell it in Japan where it’s already grown and we’ve been trying to sell it to other countries while we get this novel food status in the U.K. to sell it there."

She said recognition in the EU could take 18-24 months, but Brexit also meant some legal aspects were uncertain.

"We’re not sure because it’s EU supply. If we can prove it’s been sold in the EU before 1997 then it’s fine," she said.

"Basically, once this big dossier is done it needs to be signed off by each EU member state, but if Britain is leaving the EU we’re not sure whether we still need to do it, whether that makes it easier or harder, we’re just not sure.

"So we’ve started the process. We can sell everything we produce now to Canada, but we know the volume’s really going to ramp up in the next few years – we’re going to have 500MT of this by 2020 so we want to be selling it to markets outside the EU."

CPM berry division supply chain director Rachel Montague-Ebbs

CPM berry division supply chain director Rachel Montague-Ebbs

This production will come from several European countries, with Poland as the biggest.

"We have about 100 hectares in Poland that are either producing or starting to produce, and we are trialing it in Spain - we’ve got 10 hectares in the U.K. and we are trialing it out in Germany," Montague-Ebbs said.

"It's very much seen as the new superfood. I think it’ll be interesting in a powder form - people have their goji and acai berry powders they put on their cereal and in yogurt, and haskap would be a really good fit for that kind of thing."

She said the fresh haskap season was quite short, so part of the crop could be sold as frozen or dried product.

"I took some to Malaysia and if you have them out of the freezer like sweets, as they defrost they taste great," she added.

Conventional berry exports

CPM is also a grower of strawberries in the U.K., but a few years ago the group formed the company Soloberry in Spain to work more directly with growers in the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere.

"We were importing from Spain, so we basically made a company in Spain in order to be direct with growers there so we have this same model where we try to take growers’ complete fruit for fresh, frozen and processing," she said. strawberries-soloberry

"We we have a group of growers from Morocco that we work with, and then Spain and Portugal. It’s all linked and I manage the supply chain and communications."

During the trade fair Soloberry attracted interest from several countries, including India and China.

"It's [India] an area with less restrictions, and for them berries from Europe are so new that they just want to buy them - their quality standards aren’t outlined, they just want to test it, see how it works, and then I imagine it would become tougher over time.

"And the market is very quick, they sell out within a couple of hours of product going on shelf.

"Today we’ve had a lot of interest from China but the issue is Spain cannot sell berries to China because there’s no agreement at the moment – we’re not sure about Morocco, so we want to look at Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong – there’s been quite a lot of interest in the Philippines as well."

Montague-Ebbs is looking into possibilities for British strawberry exports as well, but the big challenge is durability for reaching far-flung markets.

"We've looked at Singapore and Malaysia what paperwork is required and it’s quite a simple process. Actually two weeks ago I shipped some product from the U.K. into Singapore and Malaysia as a trial to see how that went," she said.

"It’s very early days, the cold chain wasn’t as effective as I would have liked, but it’s about starting conversations with those people."


Behind that, she also wanted to bring Spanish and Moroccan berries as these two countries produce varieties from the USA that have been proven to ship well to Asian markets.

"We do frozen strawberries via sea, and can do blueberries via sea with controlled temperature, but really it’s airfreight and you’re just battling against temperature issues then."

Another development is a plan to import Argentine blueberries into London this season for supplying British retailers, while also re-exporting some of the fruit to India.

"It's about consolidating that supply chain," she said.

"We will start in two weeks’ time from Argentina for the U.K. market and that’s where we want to bring a couple of pallets in to send to India to see how it works," she said during the event, which took place just under two weeks ago.

Related story: Canadian nursery brings new honeyberry varieties to world stage


Subscribe to our newsletter