Our first partner abroad was with Jacques Guepratte, with whom we are partners in the French Soft Fruit marketing company “SARL Normandy Fruits”. At that time the company handled all the procurements and logistics in France. Soon after this co-operation began, one of the main growers of Blueberries in France decided to retire, and we purchased his Blueberry Farm.
The company “SARL Anjou Myrtilles” became a joint venture between Jacques and Stephen, and proved to be a great success, and consistently produced around 400 tonnes of Blueberries per annum. Most of the fruit produced in the early days was packed at the Winterwood Packhouse and marketed in the UK. Anjou Myrtilles then diversified into Raspberries, mostly destined for France and the rest of Europe. Blackberries, Redcurrants and Blackcurrants have also been produced in the past but not any more.
In 2005, Anjou Myrtilles further expanded its operations with the purchase of the farming assets of the company “France Myrtilles”. This has added a further 400 tonnes to fresh fruit to the years availability and both areas of ground were farmed together under the Anjou Myrtilles name. The combined area was all still focussed on the UK market.
In the years of 2006-2012, the farm was at its peak and was one of the most productive commercial Blueberry units in the world, regularly producing 25t/ha – this is still exceptional even for Northern High Bush (NHB) types, but – SHB types have since overtaken Northerns in terms of productivity. A further 10ha of early Blueberries was planted in 2007, and this started to come on stream in 2009. The farm is now managed by Jacques son Rodolphe, with assistance from Donatien.
Anjou Myrtilles was at it peak, the largest grower of Blueberries in France.
Since 2012 however the demand for the fruit in the UK has diminished for one reason or another, including the later production of more prolific SHB types in Spain and also UK growers planting in tunnels on a scale not seen before. The same happened with Raspberries and Blackberries and squeezed them out of the market and now Blues.
The focus of WWD is the UK market and the amount received at WWD each year has shown a steady decline. The French Government has also made it more difficult to employ pickers, and this has not helped the operational efficiencies of the farm. The long future of the farm is currently unclear, as unlikely to be Blueberries for the UK market, and the squeeze on the Blueberry profitability from Spain is affecting all the farms historic markets. in 2020, imports to the UK had dipped to around 100t and expected to fall further over time.
Recent tie ups with Berryworld in the UK to grow and market Proprietary Raspberry varieties, predominantly in the French market is one possibility that is currently being trialled.