Ribena invests in blackcurrant research as warm summers threaten crop yields

Blackcurrant farming

Lucozade Ribena Suntory, which earlier this year invested £13 million in its Coleford factory in the Forest of Dean, has now announced investment of more than half a million pounds in a five-year project with the Dundee-based James Hutton Institute to develop new varieties of climate-resilient blackcurrant. Previous research from the Institute has highlighted the threat that climate change poses to blackcurrant farming.

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Lucozade Ribena Suntory, which uses 90 per cent of the blackcurrants grown in Britain to make Ribena, has supported the globally-recognised Institute since 1991, investing more than £10 million to improve the sustainability and quality of British blackcurrant crops. Around 10,000 tonnes of blackcurrants are harvested from British fields each year to keep up with consumer demand for Ribena.

Blackcurrants 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 Lucozade Ribena Suntory 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.

The Lucozade Ribena Suntory-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.

Blackcurrant bushHarriet Prosser, who works as an agronomist at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, adds: “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 Dorota Jarret, a soft fruit breeder at the Institute’s commercial subsidiary, James Hutton Limited, said: “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.”

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This 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. Since 2004, Lucozade Ribena Suntory has worked closely with blackcurrant growers to put in place annual Biodiversity Action Plans which ensure the environment is protected as much as possible throughout their growing process. Lucozade Ribena Suntory has also partnered with the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group to help tailor these plans to individual habitats found in and around the blackcurrant farms.

According to the Blackcurrant Association, the fruit have been growing in the British countryside since the 17th century, when it was revered for its many medicinal qualities. Over the years it has grown in popularity and in 1826 the Ribes Nergum was listed with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

During World War II, Ribena was given to children for free as a vitamin C supplement and kick started  the nation’s love for the great taste of blackcurrants.

Lucozade Ribena Suntory was formed in 2014, and is part of Suntory Beverage & Food Europe. Its soft drinks brands include Lucozade Energy, Lucozade Sport, Fitwater, Ribena, Orangina and True Nopal Cactus Water.