Last week’s National Fruit Show in Kent welcomed some 4,000 visitors to almost 100 trade stands judging more than 200 entries in top-fruit, soft-fruit and cobnut competitions. Produce Business UK speaks to the show’s chair Sarah Calcutt to hear what buyers and suppliers gain from the event
It is hard to believe now that The National Fruit Show started out as 35 growers in the Marden area of Kent deciding they wanted to improve the quality and packaging of their hard fruit back in 1933. But the aims in many ways are still the same.
Grower gains and buyer aims
“We are a growers’ show founded by growers for the benefit of growers of top fruit,” says Calcutt, who is chair of the Marden Fruit Show Society, which organises the National Fruit Show. “It is about knowledge transfer and bringing together in one place growers, scientists, agronomists and everyone with everything that is needed for growers to survive and thrive. And it now includes soft fruit and cobnuts as well as apples and pears.”
Present at the two-day event are also the main marketing desks; Avalon, Fruition and Univeg and there are also plant propagators there too and of course the major multiples. Marden Fruit Show Society also has a strong relationship with New Spitalfields Market and its tenants’ association, which takes a stand each year and uses the show as an opportunity to meet with growers supplying the market and to get up to date with farm assurance and other developments.
“Seven of the 10 biggest retailers were at the dinner of the dinner on the first evening, for example,” says Calcutt. “And how good is it if you are a propagator and you get a technologist from one of the retailers trying one of your pears and saying they are interested?”
The value of having meetings with suppliers away from the office and also seeing the best the industry has to offer, should not be under-estimated, says Calcutt. “For customers and suppliers to see each other socially too is no bad thing and that is a big part of the show,” she emphasises. “It also has important value as CPD [continuing professional development] so that buyers can gain a greater understanding of the industry and its wider impact.”
Industry investment and internationalistion
Plenty of visitors attended on both days investigating stands on the first day and holding meaningful conversations on the second. Many exhibitors this year had upgraded their stands from a smaller booth a year ago and a large number of equipment suppliers had exhibits already displaying sold tags.
“It is good to see that people are re-investing in their businesses in this way,” says Calcutt, “and we probably had an extra 10% more stand space this year as we had more exhibitors and exhibitors wanting to take a greater area.”
Over the past decade since the not-for-profit show has been truly national, the show chair and her team of two part-time administration staff and volunteer committee have worked hard at bringing in those exhibitors from overseas that will be of benefit to growers in the UK for example offshore propagators and equipment suppliers. “It is not just about south-east England anymore or even the UK,” says Calcutt.
And it is not just exhibitors from overseas whose interest is piqued. “We are getting enquiries for next year about non-UK grown competition entries,” says Calcutt. “And why not? The show is the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world and there is no other competition like it for hard fruit.”
Because the National Fruit Show is run as a charity, any money it does make is ploughed into its educational programme, which provides resources for teachers and outreach into primary schools, which so far in 2015 has reached more than 1,000 children.
Prize-winning fruit is delivered to HRH the Queen and the Lord Mayor of London and this year as part of the tradition of taking the competition out on the road to the great British public, some 200 trays were distributed among civil servants in Westminster the day after the show. Further supplies made their way to Kentish Town City Farm for the London attraction’s Apple Day celebrations and the remainder was sent to poverty and food-waste fighting charity FareShare. “Not one piece of fruit was wasted after the show,” Calcutt emphasises. “It all went to a really good home.”
Targeting new sectors
Looking at 2016 and beyond the organisers are focusing on broadening the appeal to bringing in visitors from even more market segments. “The show is very supermarket-centric,” admits Calcutt. “And while there is nothing wrong with that, as most fruit in the UK is sold through the supermarkets, I think it is important for the foodservice sector too.”
In particular there are dual-purpose apples that Calcutt believes will have appeal to foodservice operators. “One example is the pink-fleshed Rosette variety which would have good placement in fine-dining,” says Calcutt. “So my target next year is to get the foodservice sector in.”
See the list of all the National Fruit Show competition winners here.