Blackcurrant Affairs: Why rural MPs have been visiting growers of one of the nation’s favourite drinks
Pete Wishart MP takes to the wheel of a harvester during a site visit to a blackcurrant grower in his constituency
Ribena is more than a much-loved blackcurrant drink. As MPs have been discovering this summer, there is a story behind the humble bottle of Ribena that is of enormous importance to Britain’s rural communities.
Ribena is a quintessentially British product. It is made using 100% British-grown blackcurrants which accounts for 90% of Britain’s blackcurrant crop. Over many decades, it has become a brand that is familiar to households throughout the UK. However, what is less well-known is how the Ribena supply chain is delivering enormous value to rural communities across the nation.
To find out more, a number of Parliamentarians went on “field trips” with a difference this summer, visiting blackcurrant growers in their constituencies, and even helping by taking the wheel of the harvesters. Most importantly, however, they were there to find out more about how blackcurrant farmers are bringing environmental and economic benefits to their local areas.
Following his visit, Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk (pictured above), described the nation’s Ribena blackcurrant farmers as, “the lifeblood of our community.” David Davies (pictured below), MP for Monmouth, concluded that drinking Ribena is, quite simply, “healthy for British farming.” Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP, Gordon Henderson, told The House that he was, “immensely proud that one of my local farmers is supplying the blackcurrants to make a Ribena drink that young people today can enjoy as much as my generation did.”
Harriet Prosser, Agronomist at Ribena owner Suntory Beverage & Food GB&I (SBF GB&I), explained to The House the vital importance that supply chains are bringing to rural economies the length and breadth of Britain.
“Our community of growers own and manage over 4,000 acres of British countryside,” she explains. “That’s equivalent to an area the size of the Scilly Isles.”
With such a huge area under the management of growers, ensuring that the popular drink can be produced sustainably is a key priority for SBF GB&I. Work has included investing £10m in a blackcurrant breeding programme that has developed more climate resilient blackcurrants that are fit for future climate challenges. The company has also committed to a roadmap and associated investment that will deliver Net Zero across its entire supply chain by 2050, moving to 100% recycled packaging, and pioneering water sustainability approaches.
The efforts the company is making to drive higher sustainability standards were noted by visiting parliamentarians.
One of the MPs visiting local growers was Pete Wishart, who represents Perth and North Perthshire. He was struck by the way that the industry is investing in a biodiverse and wildlife-friendly future.
“It is fantastic to see a local business lead the way in farming sustainability,” he told The House. “This is helping to ensure the long-term viability of both the local environment and local industry,”
His comments were echoed by Huw Merriman (pictured above), MP for Bexhill and Battle. Like Wishart, Merriman visited a local farm to gain more insight into the way that the UK’s blackcurrant industry is establishing itself at the forefront of sustainable farming.
“Being an MP for a constituency which is 90% rural, the agricultural sector is incredibly important to the local economy and jobs,” he explains. “Farming is also about careful environmental management, so it was good to learn about how the farm supports biodiversity and wildlife habitats.”
Another parliamentarian learning more about the vital contribution of frontline blackcurrant growers was Witham MP Priti Patel (pictured below). Patel described the soft fruit farm in her Witham constituency as, “a wonderful advertisement for agriculture in Essex.”
“In these difficult economic times, we are more than ever reliant upon our farmers to ensure the continuity of our food supply,” she continued. “I am pleased to champion our rural businesses.”
Harriet Prosser is delighted that so many local MPs took time out from their busy schedules to learn more about the steps being taken to encourage sustainable practices. She is particularly pleased to see the important work of local farmers being recognised by parliamentarians.
“SBF GB&I is putting support in place to encourage local producers to play their part in promoting sustainable farming,” she tells us. “But ultimately, as MPs witnessed, the real local heroes are our dedicated growers. They are the people making a real difference on the ground.”
Greg Clark MP (pictured below) also found the time to visit a farm in his Tunbridge Wells constituency. This allowed Clark to hear from farmer Nick Overy about the specific challenges that rising temperatures are creating for the industry.
“Due to the extreme weather conditions, this year’s harvest has not been without its challenges,” Clark told us, reflecting on his visit. “It was fascinating to understand how Nick is managing this and how Ribena is helping in the longer term by breeding climate change resilient blackcurrant varieties.”
For his part, farmer Nick Overy who hosted the visit was delighted to see the political spotlight on the work that goes into producing the drink. “Our team has been tirelessly preparing for harvest this year,” he told us. “It is always a special day when we get to show people the work we do on our farm, but to be able to welcome Greg has been a real highlight.”
As well as hearing about the challenges of rising temperatures, Clark also learnt about the range of measures SBF GB&I is putting in place to help growers meet them.
These measures will deliver a more sustainable future for blackcurrant farms and associated businesses, supporting UK rural economies and protecting local wildlife and habitats.
“SBF GB&I is committed to ongoing investment to drive ever higher levels of sustainability in both its direct activities and throughout its extensive supply chains,” explains Prosser. “This, alongside the dedication of local farmers, will make sure we are able to meet the needs of tomorrow’s consumers as well as today’s.”
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