The firm behind one of the UK’s most-loved berry drinks – Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS) – has invested over half a million pounds in a five-year project to develop new varieties of climate-resilient blackcurrant.
LRS, which uses 90% of the blackcurrants grown in Britain to make Ribena, has supported the globally recognised Institute since 1991, investing over £10 million to improve the sustainability and quality of British blackcurrant crops.
Around 10,000t of blackcurrants are harvested from British fields each year to keep up with consumer demand for Ribena.
Previous research from the Institute has highlighted the threat that climate change poses to blackcurrant farming.
The plants need a period of sustained cold weather in the winter, without which they yield less fruit and have a shorter lifespan.
The UK’s 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2002 and winters in the UK are getting gradually warmer.
This is one of the challenges LRS and the James Hutton Institute will continue to address over the next five years, aiming to develop varieties of blackcurrants that can cope with these changes.
Dr. Dorota Jarret, a soft fruit breeder at the Institute’s commercial subsidiary, James Hutton Limited, said: “Development of climate-resilient varieties is high on the James Hutton Institute’s agenda and blackcurrants are an important species in understanding the effect of climate change.”
The LRS-backed research will also be on the lookout for berries with high anthocyanin levels, the compound that gives berries their purple colour, and for varieties that are naturally more disease and pest resistant.
Harriet Prosser, who works as an agronomist at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, added: “Sourcing local blackcurrants from British growers keeps food miles low and allows us to trace every berry back to its field.
“Whenever someone buys a bottle of Ribena, they can be confident they’re helping to support biodiversity on our farms and research into the most sustainable ways of farming.
I look forward to extending the purple patch that we’ve had with the James Hutton Institute for nearly three decades and making sure the UK’s blackcurrant farmers have a bright future.
Dr. Jarret commented: “Together with LRS we pursue a truly integrated approach, satisfying the needs of the whole supply chain, from helping to secure the livelihoods of UK blackcurrant growers by improving sustainability of the crop, to ensuring the highest quality fruit for consumer satisfaction. Continuous investment from LRS is a forward-thinking move towards securing the future of the crop and we are delighted to play a part.’’
The partnership aligns with LRS’s ‘Growing for Good’ vision, which includes commitments to both biodiversity and sustainability in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal for Life on Land.
Blackcurrants have been bred at the James Hutton Institute since 1956. Varieties bred by the institute now account for approximately half of the blackcurrants grown in the world.
The varieties from this programme, probably the largest in the world, are instantly recognisable as they are all named after Scottish mountains and have the “Ben” prefix.