26 Jan 2023

Driscoll's focuses on the 3023 growth plan in UK

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Driscoll's plans new varieties and more export opportunities to grow UK berry category

Russell Allwell, managing director of Driscoll's EMEA, said setting up his own business in the UK represents a "great opportunity."

Driscoll's has set out plans to grow the berry category in the UK in 2023, following its acquisition of Berry Gardens late last year. The global fruit giant already had a 20-year relationship with Berry Gardens-which grew, distributed, and marketed Driscoll's varieties exclusively in the UK-before completing its acquisition of the company in November.

Under the agreement, Driscoll's will assume management of the sales, packaging and distribution activities of the Berry Gardens Growers agricultural cooperative (known as Berry Gardens). The cooperative itself will continue to operate independently and focus on cultivation.

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Setting up its own UK operation was described as a "great opportunity" by Russell Allwell, general manager of Driscoll's EMEA, who told The Grocer that the U.S. supplier's strategy is to "extend and execute our category building programs that we already have in Europe."

There is still "a lot of room for growth" in the berry category, particularly at blueberries, he said. Driscoll's is intent on helping both retailers and growers promote this growth.

  • "We bring a lot of experience in terms of category creation, category innovation, collaboration with growers and optimizing grower yields, so we think we can bring a lot to the category," Allwell said.

Part of this expansion is through the introduction of new "tastier" varieties, which Allwell says is even more important when consumers' wallets are getting tighter.

  • "Price is an important consideration, but flavor is by far the most important, so we have to be lean and efficient in what we do and we have to continue to respect the wallet in these times of inflation, but you can't compromise on flavor," he said.
Russell Allwell, general manager of Driscoll's EMEA. Source: Fruitnet.
Russell Allwell, general manager of Driscoll's EMEA. Source: Fruitnet.

.-"You can't compromise on quality in these times, because that's why consumers buy the category and that's where loyalty comes from."

He said cost pressure is the "biggest challenge" facing British growers today, in addition to labor and climate. He explained that Driscoll's presence would benefit growers because the company "can tap into the strength of growing in all parts of the world" and help introduce greater operational efficiencies through integrated planning.

Integrated planning is about balancing supply and demand planning, Allwell said:

  • "We want to be a demand-driven company, so we want to approach our customers to develop our category plans and understand their needs, and then go back to driving what growers produce to meet those needs, rather than saying, 'let's just plant randomly, produce a bunch of fruit, and hope someone will take it.'

Growers welcome the expansion of the program for seasonal workers, but warn of future challenges. He also hoped the company will be able to introduce some of its innovations that have been successful in Europe, such as paper packaging, reducing plastic by 98 percent.

Packaging in Driscoll's paper.
Packaging in Driscoll's paper.

However, he pointed out that Driscoll's is there to "listen."

  • "We certainly don't come in with the arrogance of knowing everything, we have a lot to learn about the British market, we want to listen, we want to learn, we see it very much as a collaboration with our growers and our customers on how to approach the market."

Allwell confirmed that Driscoll's is currently working to meet with all UK retailers to demonstrate what it can offer. "Our priority is to serve UK retailers and offer the best service and quality possible," he said.

This means, in part, that Driscoll's will ensure that when British fruit is not in season, consumers can still get "the same great quality in terms of taste and flavor from Driscoll's elsewhere in the world." During the British season, however, exports could become an opportunity as a result of increased production and "adjustments" in transportation.

  • "UK fruit is amazing, UK-grown berries are as good as anywhere in the world, and I think the time for keeping them to oneself is over," he said. "We need to start exporting them because they are world-class."

Looking ahead, Allwell said he was "excited" about the opportunities in the British berry market.

  • "We think we can accelerate the growth of the category and do it in a way that benefits both the grower and the retailer."

Source : The Grocer

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