Irish strawberry production has topped 5,500 tonnes as consumers on the Emerald Isle put the emphasis on locally grown, tasty and nutritious produce.
Demand for strawberries, a rich source of vitamin C as well as antioxidants like ellagic acid, has increased both in the UK and Ireland, with many supermarkets marketing the fruit as one of nature's Superfoods.
Dr. Eamonn Kehoe, Teagasc Soft Fruit Adviser told growers at the Teagasc National Soft Fruit Conference in Dublin yesterday, that the Irish strawberry market was now worth an estimated €21m.
"New investments in glasshouses, tunnels and the use of new technology in strawberry plant production have lengthened the Irish production season. Fresh Irish grown strawberries are now available from April to November, helping to meet the needs of supermarkets. More growers are now selling directly to consumers at farmers markets - local and fresh," said Dr. Kehoe.
Teagasc is supporting research into strawberry tray plant production at its Kinsealy research facility.
"Tray plants can produce 10 to 20 per cent more large fruits than traditional 'bare root' plants which reduces picking costs substantially," explained Kehoe.
The demand for local produce is also mirrored in the UK, with demand sometimes outstripping supply, according to the National Farmers Retail and Markets Association.
Strawberry sales in the UK are reported to have increased by 34 per cent during the last two years.
Growing public understanding of several fruits and vegetables has also seen demand increase across the UK for other berries. Sales of blueberries are reported to have rocketed by 130 per cent, while raspberry sales grew by 62 per cent in the last two years.
Analysts from Innova Market Insights said recently that the increasing popularity of berries and berry flavours in recent years is now extending to other less well-known super fruits, such as pomegranate, mangosteen, acai and noni, which are all being marketed on their antioxidant content and associated health benefits.
This could have a knock-on effect into other sectors. Datamonitor recently said that in Europe, the increased popularity of exotic fruit contributed significantly to a growth rate of 26 per cent for the European organic food industry between 2001 and 2004. The US market looks to be following suit.