The wet, dark winter has delayed the British strawberry season by a fortnight, but the fruit will be large and juicy, according to producers.

The combination of cold weather and little sunlight means that British strawberries have been slower to develop, with the first big harvests of the season forecast for the end of May.

However, growers said they would be worth the wait, after the weather conditions left the flowering and ripening of the fruit occurring more gradually to create larger and juicer strawberries.

Crops were under poly-tunnels, meaning the weather had not caused them any damage, while the slow growth had built stronger plants which had the energy to support larger and even more flavoursome fruit.

Every region of the UK recorded above average rainfall this winter, making it the eighth wettest on record, according to the Met Office.

The arrival of Spring saw further downpours, with England and Wales recording more than 150% of their long-term average monthly rainfall.

The weather has also been colder and duller than average, with March recording just 95.2 hours of sunshine – 87% of the long-term average – and colder-than-average temperatures at the start of the month.

Over the last 12 months shoppers spent a record £847.5 million on strawberries, Kantar figures show.

Developments in growing techniques mean that the UK is now self-sufficient in strawberry production for the whole summer season from early May to late October.

Strawberries for sale on a stall in a London market
British berries are ‘big business’ for the UK economy with year-round retail-sales hitting £1.87 billion (Philip Toscano/PA)

Fresh berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries – continue to be the most popular fruit item in shoppers’ baskets, enjoying the biggest market share at 28% of all fruit sold in the UK.

This has pushed the value of the British berry industry in year-round retail-sales to an all-time high of £1.87 billion.

Industry body British Berry Growers said international demand for British berries was soaring, with the UK’s temperate climate and water availability, coupled with its world-leading technology in substrate production and automation, placing it in a “far better” position to produce the fruit.

Nick Marston, chairman of British Berry Growers, said: “Cold, wet weather and reduced sunlight hours this Spring means that Britain’s strawberry crop will arrive later this year.

“But the good news is that they are well worth the wait. The slower ripening period will allow flavours to develop as the strawberries grow to become particularly large and juicy. It will be a fantastic year for British strawberries.

“British berries are big business for the UK economy with year-round retail sales reaching an all-time high of £1.87 billion in the UK alone.

“When we see the potential for growth of British strawberry sales outside the UK it makes it a great shame that red tape is making it harder for growers to export their high-quality berries.

“It is nonsensical that despite having some of the world’s most in-demand berries that we are unable to compete in the global market due to red tape. Urgent government reforms are needed that reflect the realities of modern trading. As a nation we must capitalise on this great export opportunity.”