Wimbledon strawberries to stay British after Brexit – probably – The Guardian
Asked about the possibility of a strawberry shortage after Britain leaves the EU, catering manager Anthony Davies said Wimbledon would strive to keep getting its strawberries from the UK.
“We’ve not had any direct contact with [our supplier] over any concerns [about] delivering strawberries to Wimbledon. Clearly if there is a bridge we need to cross at some point in time, we’ll cross it,” he said. “Strawberries are really important to Wimbledon, we’ll make sure we have strawberries.”
Asked if they had to be British, he said: “They don’t have to be, but we are really focused on championing British produce and actually why would you go anywhere else at this time of year? Our view is that we think we will be able to maintain British strawberries.”
A worker carries strawberries as security hold back the crowd during the first day of a previous Wimbledon. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA
But the managing director of Hugh Lowe Farms in Kent, the official supplier of Wimbledon strawberries, has warned that strawberries would have to be imported if the UK did not allow seasonal workers to enter Britain to pick soft fruit.
Asked what would happen if a special deal were not struck for seasonal fruit pickers, managing director Marion Regan said: “I should think strawberries would be imported. We need the people willing to travel here temporarily from other countries to pick our fruit, who then return home after the season: they are really welcome and carry out a skilled temporary job that an increasingly urban UK population is unwilling or unable to do.”
The price of a bowl of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon has remained consistent at £2.50. But Davies admitted the championship had to subsidise the product, yet he would not reveal by how much. Asked if there had been any new challenges in the food supply chain this year he said no but added: “Food price inflation at this time is running higher than it has in previous years, but it’s something we saw coming down the line. For us it’s about making the right choices so our guests have the best experience.”
While Davies appeared confident that strawberries would remain British – and (relatively) affordable – at Wimbledon, British Summer Fruits, the industry body that accounts for 97% of berries supplied to UK supermarkets, has said strawberry and raspberry prices could rise by up to 50% as a result of Brexit. It said 95% of seasonal fruit pickers in Britain came from the EU.
Regan said that almost all strawberries sold at Wimbledon would be picked by Romanian or Bulgarian workers. “We have a fantastic crew of people here. In common with absolutely all British fruit and vegetable growers, and other sectors of agriculture, we’re really dependent on a flexible labour force.”
The farm sends about 28,000kg (61,700lb) of strawberries to the event each year, most of which is picked by eastern Europeans at 4am before being driven to SW19.
Regan has expressed hope that there will be a mechanism when Britain leaves the UK to enable seasonal workers to continue coming to the UK.
The BSF chairman, Laurence Olins, said: “This is as extreme as it gets. If we do not have the pickers, we do not have a soft fruits industry.”
The BSF called on the government to allow labourers from Europe to work in Britain after Brexit on fixed-term contracts to do the jobs it says British people are unwilling to do.
Tennis fan eats a strawberry, which are trucked in from Kent. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Strawberries have been a fixture of Wimbledon since the earliest days of the tournament, when the shorter Victorian strawberry season coincided with play.
Meanwhile, the BBC has revealed that the giant bowl of strawberries placed on Clare Balding’s desk during Today at Wimbledon is less than half full of real fruit.
The corporation came under fire on Twitter, with some people accusing it of wasting food. One user tweeted: “Watching Today at Wimbledon, what’s with the massive bowl of strawberries? Is that just thrown at end of the show?”
But the BBC said the impression of abundance was a broadcasting trick. A spokeswoman said: “There’s a plastic insert in the bowl to make it appear that there are more strawberries in there than there actually are.
“The strawberries have been in the bowl since Monday night on the TV, they are kept in the fridge and at the end of the day they go on the same show.”
Asked whether the strawberries would be given to staff before they go bad she said: “Who can say.”