Mini-cucumbers are hit with youngsters

With pix being taken Old Buckenham Primary School 10.30am ThursdayBy MICHAEL POLLITTRural affairs editorChildren at schools across England and Wales are getting a real taste for a very special sweet mini-cucumber - supplied by Norfolk-based Watton Produce.

With pix being taken Old Buckenham Primary School 10.30am Thursday

By MICHAEL POLLITT

Rural affairs editor

Children at schools across England and Wales are getting a real taste for a very special sweet mini-cucumber - supplied by Norfolk-based Watton Produce.


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Millions of tasty mini-cucumbers have been supplied to primary school children throughout the country from the long-established vegetable growing and packing business.

Katy Negus, who is the firm's marketing and new product development manager, spotted the potential to expand the range of fruit and vegetables for schools. “We were already supplying carrots through the Schools Fruit and Vegetable Scheme and we thought about growing these mini-cucumbers.

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“We are supplying about two million school children a week in total. Since last September, we've supplied about 40 million pieces of carrots,” she said.

“The carrots kicked off the whole thing. I'd seen a new product, a mini-cucumber launched last year,” said Katy, who approached NHS Purchasing, which is a specialist procurement business, buying fruit and vegetables for the Department of Health.

“They thought it would be a fantastic product - it is naturally very sweet, bite-sized and ideal for children. The next task was to carry out a trial which was done last October.

“We supplied 200,000 mini-cucumbers to schools in the north west. It went down like a storm and everybody was saying: 'We want these in summer.' We had schools calling us desperate to find out where they can get these cucumbers.”

Children at primary schools get a choice of fruit and vegetables and items are served daily - ranging from apple, soft citrus, bananas, carrots, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas and even strawberries. “We are constantly trying to find the ideal snacking product for children. We're trying to find a gap in the market,” said Katy, daughter of the company's chairman and managing director, Meryvn.

“The cucumber really appealed because it is really crunchy - it is the crunchiest of the varieties we picked,” she added.

While Watton Produce is keen to encourage more local production of these special mini-cucumbers, which will happen next year, it has required big investment by specialist growers in Isreal. “We're working with very dedicated and efficient suppliers who can supply the volume and quantity we need to supply schools for six weeks in the summer,” said Katy.

The cucumbers, which are often picked twice a day, are flown from Israel and then transported in cool chain distribution at about 3C before being washed, graded and packed at the firm's Shropham plant. The packs of 10 cucumbers are then sent to 18 distributors for delivery to schools from Northumberland to Cornwall.

When the schools finish this week for the summer break, an estimated 6.5m mini-cucumbers will have been delivered. “We're giving children a chance to try really tasty fresh vegetables. It is also means work for the factory at a relatively slack time of the year,” said Katy.

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