Food & Drink

Strawberry yields forever: What happens to berries bound for SW19 after Wimbledon cancellation?

By Alex Ross
April 3 2020, 21.00

The cancellation of the 2020 Wimbledon Championships due to coronavirus means the traditional doubles partnership of strawberries and cream will not grace SW19 this summer.

What will happen to the 28,000kg of strawberries that would otherwise be destined for tennis fans during Wimbledon fortnight?

According to Marion Regan, managing director of Hugh Lowe Farms in Kent, which supplies strawberries and raspberries to The Championships, the spare fruit will be put to good use.

The farms will instead step up supply to local shops as well as donate the surplus to a London food bank.

 “We will make sure nothing goes to waste. It’s more important now than ever we look after one another,” Regan said.

Despite the disruption of traditional supply chains to restaurants and hotels, demand has instead pivoted to fruit and veg home delivery schemes, as well as farm shops and independent convenience stores.

“We plan to increase our supply not just to the supermarkets, but also to local farm shops and independent stores who are working so hard to feed our rural communities,” said Regan.

A quintessential British summertime fruit. Image credit: Jon ‘ShakataGaNai‘ Davis

Regan’s family-run farm, which was established in 1893 by her great-grandparents, has been supplying Wimbledon with strawberries for more than 25 years.

“We can only make minor adjustments to our cropping plan on the farm at this stage,” said Regan.

“But strawberries are such a quintessential summer fruit we are hopeful that the demand will be boosted in other ways during that fortnight.”

The farm’s planting operation for the summer is a well-drilled procedure. More than 170 hectares of soft fruit are cultivated every year and varied planting dates ensure that strawberries, which take roughly 30 days to grow from flower into ripe fruit, are available every day from April to November.

The height of the strawberry season is usually during the summer at the time of The Championships.

The operation behind keeping the tournament fully stocked with roughly 1.4 million spotless strawberries over the fortnight is extensive and executed with military precision.

Strawberries are hand-picked as the sun rises at 4am and quality checked to ensure they are good enough to land in a Wimbledon-bound tray. Only Grade 1 English strawberries from Kent are picked.

The chosen fruit are then taken 30 miles to The Championships on each day of the tournament, arriving at the All England Club at 5.30am to be checked again, hulled, and ready to fly off shelves once the grounds open at 11am.

At the 2019 Championships 191,930 portions of strawberries and cream were consumed by tennis fans.

Yet the cancellation of The Championships, along with most of the British summer sporting events, also poses a challenge to broadcasters with a fortnight of coverage gone.  

There is the hope that, just as the hectares of strawberry plants in their polytunnels primed for the tournament won’t go to waste, neither will the hours set aside on the airwaves.

Regan hopes that the BBC will air re-runs of entertaining tennis highlights seen at Wimbledon in the past few years, or even entire classic matches from the past.

Then, she says, “notwithstanding the tribulations, people will be able to enjoy the summer wherever we are by then – and hopefully eat plenty of fresh strawberries!”

Featured image credit: David Clark, licensed for reuse.

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