A Herefordshire-based farm has rented fields in west Cornwall to make sure “out of season” home-grown Tenderstem broccoli is available to cater for soaring Christmas demand.
The season for British-grown Tenderstem normally starts in June and ends in early or mid-November, meaning festive dinner plates are usually supplied with imports from Kenya or Spain.
AS Green and Co, based close to Mathon, near Ledbury, is set to supply Tesco with 40 tonnes of Tenderstem broccoli in the run-up to Christmas, when sales are expected to rise to around 45% above normal weekly levels.
The family-owned farm has used a combination of carefully measured growing techniques and the milder climate near Penzance to produce the later-than-usual crop, aided by mild autumn weather.
Caroline Green, of AS Green, said: “We also grow Tenderstem broccoli at our main site in Herefordshire but have rented land in Cornwall in order to try and extend the British growing season which we’ve achieved this year.
“This is the start of a three-to-four-year trial and we are still learning as we go but the early signs have been very good.
“We decided to grow in Cornwall as it has a warmer climate with milder night-time temperatures and a better growing soil for this crop.
“In the past we’ve been able to grow it until November 20, but our aim was to reach Christmas. We put a lot of science into picking the right site in order to make this happen.”
AS Green is now hoping to extend its next growing season for Tenderstem – a trademarked natural hybrid of regular broccoli and kale – from May until Christmas.
People love it because it’s easy to prepare plus it’s packed with goodnessJames Malham, Tesco
Tesco says the late-season crop, grown near St Michael’s Mount, also has a sustainability benefit, meaning it will not have to import the increasingly popular vegetable during the period.
Rising demand for Tenderstem has outstripped that for regular broccoli in recent years, seeing annual growth of around 40%.
Tesco speciality vegetables buyer James Malham said: “It’s very rare indeed to get UK-grown Tenderstem broccoli for Christmas.
“Over the last few years we’ve seen a real increase in shoppers buying it during the festive period and it’s now considered a treat to join carrots, parsnips, cauliflower and roasties on the Christmas dinner table.
“People love it because it’s easy to prepare plus it’s packed with goodness.
“As a result of that demand our grower has pulled out all the stops to get us the UK-grown variety and has switched production to the warmer Cornwall micro-climate in order to do so.”
The Cornwall-grown produce goes on sale at Tesco stores across the UK this week, costing £1.50 for a 200g pack and £2.25 for a 330g pack.