New blackcurrant drink ‘a lifeline’ for fruit growers

Manufacturer who runs last commercial farm in State attempts to save the industry

Des Jeffares on his blackcurrant farm in Ballykelly, Co Wexford

Des Jeffares on his blackcurrant farm in Ballykelly, Co Wexford

 

Ireland’s blackcurrant industry has been in terminal decline since Ribena stopped using Irish blackcurrants more than two years ago, but one Wexford grower is on a mission to save it. Des Jeffares runs what he believes is the only remaining commercial blackcurrant farm in the State and has embarked on a plan to save the industry from extinction.

After Ribena cut its Irish contracts in favour of British growers in 2013, he started developing a blackcurrant cordial with pure fruit juice and no added sugar. Mr Jeffares Irish Blackcurrant Cordial is now hitting supermarket shelves and if it takes off, he believes it could encourage other growers to get back into the business.

Mr Jeffares was known as Mr Ribena in the area, after appearing in a television ad for the product about 10 years ago.

“We’ve a long history of growing blackcurrants in Wexford,” he said. “There were 500 acres of blackcurrants growing in the county not so long ago, but it has dwindled over time. Our family has been growing blackcurrants since 1955.”

At one stage, up to 15 growers were supplying blackcurrants to Ribena, Chivers and Wexford Quality Foods but, one by one, the contracts ended.

Lifeline

“The industry would be dead on its feet without this new juice. There’s no doubt about it because there is no other outlet for it. This juice brand is the lifeline for the future. It’s boom or bust.”

He uses his entire 100-acre farm to grow blackcurrants and has also been trying to build up business from the catering industry and jam companies.

Super fruit

Growing blackcurrants is similar to growing grapes and Wexford is particularly suitable because of its high sunshine levels.

He said he did not want to see the blackcurrant industry going the same way as the sugar industry, which folded in 2006 following EU reforms and Greencore’s decision to close its Mallow plant. “I know we’re not anywhere near the same scale but it’s still an indigenous industry in the southeast and it would be a shame to see it go,” he said.