Hall Hunter invests in blueberry growth

CEO Jim Floor outlines the company's ambitious expansion plans as demand for UK-grown blueberries continues to rise

The berry grower Hall Hunter has high expectations for the 2024 UK blueberry season. The company has 140 hectares of production spread over four farms in Berkshire and Surrey and supplies the main supermarkets in the United Kingdom. This year it hopes to harvest a crop of 3.000 tonnes of blueberries, representing 50 per cent of the UK's total production.

"The harvest started last week and we will continue harvesting until mid-September," he explains. to Fruitnet the general director, Jim Floor . “We are very confident that our 2024 blueberry harvest will be the best in our history. “The recent warm weather has helped produce excellent flowers and our 5 million bees have worked hard to pollinate the crop – berries are plentiful.”

Jim Floor-Managing Director at Hall Hunter Partnership

Despite the influx of cheaper imports from countries like Peru seen in recent years, the market for blueberries grown in Britain is growing at 30 percent year-on-year, and Floor believes there is plenty of room for further expansion. The company's own production will increase significantly with the opening of a new 70 hectare farm in Surrey next year.

“Blueberries are not considered a traditional British berry in the same way as strawberries or raspberries, but the quality and taste are exceptional and customers are asking for our products,” he says.

“Consumers consider British blueberries to be a premium product compared to those from other sources, some of which have spent 4-6 weeks in transit.”

Last summer, Hall Hunter took to the streets of south London during the Wimbledon tennis championships to hand out free samples of blueberries and cream as an alternative to the traditional tennis dish of strawberries and cream.

When asked if labor availability will be a challenge this season, Floor says he is confident the company's strong focus on worker well-being will mitigate this risk. The company will employ 1.200 seasonal workers this year, all hired through the Temporary Worker Visa Program.

“We are really proud of our staff and the facilities we offer them. “Sixty-five percent return each year and have chosen to work for Hall Hunter because of our improved supply of workers,” he said.

At the same time, the company continues to invest in packaging plant technology and automation.

It recently installed a new blueberry sorting and packing machine using artificial intelligence technology, and this year it has invested in a blueberry harvesting machine capable of picking 600kg of fruit per hour (versus a manual picking rate of 10kg per hour). hour). He is also testing robotic systems in the fields, such as runner robots to deliver picked fruit to transport and UV robots to treat diseases and reduce pesticide use.

Investments in new genetics also continue apace. In the last two years, Floor says the company has invested more than £1 million in new premium varieties, mainly Sekoya from Fall Creek.

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