The humble blueberry has recently shot to fame as a wonder fruit because of its anti-ageing properties, now Midland blackcurrant growers want to get in on the act, as Rural Affairs Reporter Sarah Probert reports...
When Delia Smith chose to use fresh cranberries in her dishes, the fruit was flying off the supermarket shelves.
For the last few years, blueberries have enjoyed similar popularity thanks to dieticians and nutritionists.
And now blackcurrant farmers in Herefordshire are hoping to cash in by exploiting the healing properties of their fruits. The group of growers has launched a campaign to promote blackcurrants in the hope they will be able to boost next year's harvest.
Although thousands of fruit-filled acres will be picked in the next few weeks, more than 90 per cent will be destined for the Ribena bottle.
Only a few punnets will go on sale as fresh fruit, and growers want the amount sold to the public to increase dramatically.
Jo Hilditch, whose grandfather set up a blackcurrant farm near Leominster, Herefordshire, in the 1930s, said farmers wanted to see the market for the fruit grow so they can sell their current surplus.
"The health benefits of blueberries have become wellknown in the past few years, but the blackcurrant has almost disappeared from the consumer's consciousness," she said.
Ms Hilditch is chairman of the newly formed Blackcurrant Foundation, set up by growers to market their fruit more effectively.
"We came up with the idea at an international conference and there had been so much publicity about blueberries over the last few years. We think we have a product way ahead of blueberries in terms of health credentials.
"We haven't done enough to promote ourselves in terms of health credentials and yet blackcurrants have more health promoting anti-oxidants than any other fruit," she said.
Like other growers, the blackcurrant farmers have been forced to compete with cheap imports despite their belief that their fruit is far superior.
She hopes a marketing campaign will increase the amount of British blackcurrants sold and efforts are already underway to secure the future of Herefordshire growers.
"My grandfather started planting the blackcurrants and provided local jam companies in the 1930s. My father started selling to Ribena right from its inception. We want to raise the profile of the blackcurrant as much as we want to sell our fruit through other channels."
Ms Hilditch is already looking to make her own cassis from her fruit as well as increasing the supply of fresh blackcurrants into supermarkets.
The foundation has attracted interest from jammaking company Robertsons and supermarkets Waitrose and Morrisons.
"We are trying to get varieties together that will cope with the changing climatic conditions with summers getting hotter and dryer.
"This year has been fine for us apart from the week of rain which does terrible damage to the quality of berries and Ribena won't accept poor quality fruit, although our relationship with Ribena is very good and they do look after us."