They are usually associated with Wales, but leeks are just as likely to be grown in Northern Ireland as they are in the Welsh Valleys. Leeks from the Ards Peninsula have been featuring on the shelves of Tesco stores across Northern Ireland for the past 17 years. And this year the leeks are in-store earlier than usual thanks to excellent growing conditions.
Roy Lyttle Ltd, which is based on the Portaferry Road just outside Newtownards, has been supplying Tesco with leeks since 1997. Roy explained: “There are several reasons for the leeks being ready early. We have been asked by Tesco in recent years to make every effort to keep Northern Ireland produce on the shelves for as long as possible. “There used to be a gap in supply of local leeks of 18 weeks during the summer but this year the period of imported produce has been reduced to five weeks. “New hybrid varieties of leek seed which mature early have been used. We choose particularly sheltered, south facing fields with light soils for the early crops. The mild conditions this spring, with plenty of rain, no harsh frosts and lots of sunshine, have certainly helped.”
Tesco buyer Sandra Weir said: “Roy Lyttle Ltd supplies an average of 6,000 packs of leeks per week as well as 2,000kgs of loose leeks, with the highest sales in the winter months. Due to a longer supply period, and stronger sales, leek orders rose by 21% in 2013 on the previous year.”
And Roy Lyttle expects even healthier sales this year. Apart from supplying leeks to Tesco in various formats – loose and pre-packed – the Co Down company’s scallions, organic leeks and a range of organic seasonal cabbage can also be found on Tesco shelves across Northern Ireland throughout the year when in season. Leeks with distinctive ‘Grown on The Ards Peninsula by Roy Lyttle’ stickers are now available in Tesco stores across Northern Ireland.
Sheila Lyttle from Roy Lyttle Ltd explained: “Leeks have become a popular choice for consumers. The white blanched stalks of Allium family vegetables are delicate in flavour, sweet and less pungent than garlic or onions but with all the health benefits.” “Leeks are also easy to clean, prepare and cook and are used by so many celebrity chefs now, in the menus of all cultures, and they’re not just for soups.”