Angus Soft Fruits

Angus Soft fruits growing

Angus Soft Fruits

Exclusive Interview | Answers by: Lucy Wilkins, Breading Program Director

What does your business produce?

Strawberries raspberries blackberries blueberries cherries. 

 

 

What is the history/background of your company, how long have you been trading? 

Angus Fruits are a Scottish based company who develop, grow, trade and sell berries. We work very closely with growers and have an organisation called angus growers – we produce top quality berries in Scotland.  

Internationally, we work with growers around the world, particularly, Spain Morocco Portugal to ensure continuity of supply year-round. 

What is your name, role within the business and how long have you worked here? 

Lucy – Breading program director. 

 

 

What does a typical day look like for you?! 

No two days are the same as the nature of the products they sell is seasonal. In summer particularly, there is a lot of ripe fruit to monitor and record information on. Most days, we survey the plants and fruit to assess if they could be a new variety in the future. In the off season, it’s a lot of planning, planting and propagation, as well as looking at trial sites internationally, such as the large site in south of Spain where sometimes UK off season can be peak for Spain meaning busy days looking at varieties and selecting for the target market. 

About the Angus Soft Fruits breading program

The program is about looking for new varieties of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, specifically new varieties of fruits that exceed current commercials standards in terms of size, yield, flavour, shape and general X of the plants. To make sure we have products that meet both growers demands and customers’ expectations. Customers are anyone from supermarkets to wholesale and catering requirements. 

What do you enjoy most about the industry?

It’s great to be able to taste the fruits and try to create new varieties, however, you wouldn’t believe the good and the bad that can come out of a new cross. Some of the blackberries feel like a game of Russian Roulette, a good one can be the most incredible sweet thing you’ve ever eaten, but a bad one…well, I don’t even want to go there! 

What are the biggest challenges you face in the industry? 

I’d say the biggest challenge in this industry is around cost of production. This is where expertise comes in as we must look for qualities that lend themselves to cheaper pickings. This can be things such as the way the fruit presents itself, how easy it fits into a punnet and shelf life, so customers can hold stock a little longer. Therefore, there are some things we can do, but as an industry costs are really high at the moment. Labour has increased considerably in recent years not just in the UK, but internationally as well and so we must be facing those challenges head on, and varieties play a huge role in that. 

Can you talk us through the growing cycle, including time frames etc, impacts on growth etc? 

Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries are quite long-term crops, growers must plan quite far in advance what they want to grow, typically they buy in a plant from a propagator. In a strawberry, what that looks like is a piece of plant that has been cut from a ‘runner’ (the vines of the plant). They then plant the ‘runner’ and it will make an exact clone of the mother plant. That takes quite a long time, so most growers are ordering plants, two years ahead. It’s a long time that they are waiting and planning to try and predict what they’re going to need in two years’ time – this is also very similar for raspberries.  

Once planted, it depends on the cropping type, but for something like a June bearer (June bearing strawberries produce one large crop of fruit each growing season, typically in June) we tend to say is a 60-day crop, so from planting to fruit it’s 60 days. You then get a nice big plot of fruit that we can sell and those can start anywhere as early as April and hopefully continue all the way through to the autumn. We get quite a good long British season here in the UK and places like Scotland are instrumental in that as they have a fantastic growing climate up there. The long days mean the fruit can ripen over a long period of time, so we get really good quality fruit coming out of our Scottish farms. 

What industry support is there available to you?

As a company, we work with lots of other partners within the industry, particularly research partners and there’s a lot of challenges that the whole industry is facing, and we know that we’re struggling together if we work with some of these big Institutes to try and fight some of the issues we’ve got as an industry. These issues can be around technology advancement, such as should we be looking at robotics for example, but also more around the genetics or on the agronomy side of things. We’ve got various projects within the company to make sure that we stay relevant, but also to get funding to help drive these projects forward. 

Sustainability initiatives – any changes in recent years to improve environmental impact of your business? 

Varieties play a huge role in sustainable agriculture, the only way we are going to get to a point where we no longer need pesticides is if we have varieties that are fully resistant to disease. Something we spend a lot of time looking at in the breeding program is finding varieties completely free of disease. This is in the hope that, in the future growers will not need to use as many harsh chemicals as they are using currently.  

Innovation and future plans? 

Within our program, we’ve got a lot of recently new varieties. We’ve just released three new varieties for the Mediterranean climate – these are normally low chilled type strawberry varieties. We’ve got three Ava Alicia, Ava, Catalina and Ava, Sophia, and they are continuing our Ava brand of premium quality fruits but out of Mediterranean, so you’ll be seeing those ramping up in volume over the next few years down in Spain, Portugal, and hopefully eventually, Morocco.  

We’re also recently released two new raspberries, Ava Monet and Ava Dali. These are fantastic raspberries. They are so sweet and so attractive in the punnet, and we think they are really something different, particularly for the UK market. We’ve had fantastic results in Scotland, and we’ve already got plants on order from our growers for next year. They also work well in the Mediterranean and we’ve had good trial results in the off-season, we have Portugal and Spain, so we’re really hoping to get a long season out of these varieties in order to continue to supply good berries all year round. 

Any interesting facts about your business? 

Angus fruits were first to launch a premium strawberry into the UK market and that’s where our brand Ava comes from. Ava was the first variety we released from our program, and it was a big game changer at the time. It really started off this premium top tier fruit we now see on the market. 

Interesting facts about your produce and tips for chefs using your produce?

We spend a lot of time in our breeding program, looking at sensory qualities, so that’s everything from appearance, taste and texture in your mouth all the way through to aroma. In general, looking for a nice big conical shiny berry, so that when it’s in the punnet it looks really attractive.  

We’re also looking at flavours, so we really want something that’s got a good balance of different flavours in there with an overriding sweetness and strawberry flavour for strawberries, raspberry flavour in the raspberries and of course that fruity blackberry.  

Fun fact about flavour is it highly associated to how the berries look and how the berry smells, so we try to separate the two traits in testing as completely different. We often get people to taste the berries before we ask them to look at them, so we can kind of hide the berries, so they’ve got no preconceived ideas of what that fruit is going to taste like. It’s easy to look at something and view something as looking good or not looking good and before you’ve eaten it you’ve got an expectation of how that fruit is going to taste. It’s our job to siphon those out so that we can ensure we are delivering good tasting berries. 

Growers & Producers

Smithy Mushrooms

Situated in West Lancashire, Smithy Mushrooms has been established for over 30 years. Smithy covers 3 acres of land and houses 26 individually controlled growing rooms, cultivating a variety of both wild & exotic mushrooms all year round.
Discover More

Woodlands Farm

Woodlands Farm covers approximately 25 acres near Knutsford, Cheshire & the Halman family have been farming in Cheshire for 123 years and are now proudly into their 5th generation.
Discover More

F.B Emison and Son

The Emison family-run farm started almost 60 years ago, growing tomato & lettuce. 40 years later they decided to grow pak choi all year round, and little gem lettuces as a summer product, which continues today.
Discover More

Herbs Unlimited

Located in North Yorkshire, Herbs Unlimited grow and process fresh herbs, salads and edible flowers. They also work with British foragers to supply foraged produce when in season.
Discover More

Poskitts’

The Firs Farm, Yorkshire is home to Guy Poskitt who supplies us with parsnips & carrots. The land is ideal for these root vegetables due to the sandy soil.
Discover More