By Andrew Johnson
Britain may be a nation of binge-drinkers and over-indulgers - especially at this time of year - but new figures show we are also a nation of berry lovers.
Sales of British strawberries, blackberries and raspberries have broken all records and suppliers are struggling to keep up with demand.
The soft fruits, which are credited with staving off cancer and enhancing sexual prowess, have seen sales hit £204m this year.
"It's because people are becoming more aware of the health benefits of eating fresh fruit, especially berries," said Laurence Olins, the chairman of British Summer Fruits (BSF), which represents nearly all of Britain's soft fruit growers.
The strawberry remains the quintessential summer fruit, with £165m worth sold this year, the figures from BSF show.
That represents a 5 per cent sales increase. In comparison, sales of blackberries shot up by 31 per cent to £4m while raspberry sales were up 26 per cent to £35m.
Such is the demand that none of Britain's home-grown fruit is exported. And in July and August, when demand is at its highest, berries have to be imported from Europe.
The berry bonanza is not just explained by Britons choosing the healthy option, however. BSF acknowledges it is also partly due to the increased availability of the fruit - more and more acres are being planted to keep up with demand - and a strong marketing campaign.
The increase in sales has been boosted by an extensive advertising campaign. This year's launch of the strawberry season saw the model Sophie Anderton pose naked with just strawberries to cover her modesty.
"The entire marketing campaign in June focused on the health benefits, more vitamin C, good for digestion, lots of anti-oxidants," a BSF spokeswoman said. "Sophie helped us create some noise to let us know it was the start of the British berry season. We did that because it was the World Cup, and sales traditionally fall during the World Cup while sales of beer and crisps go up."
BSF also recently used a marketing campaign headed by the television sex inspector Tracey Cox to extol the aphrodisiac qualities of berries.
Cox claimed the secret to improving attraction is eating raspberries and strawberries.
The main reason is that the berries contain high levels of zinc which is said to enhance sperm production in men and make women more receptive to sex.
Raspberries and strawberries also have high levels of anti-cancer molecules.
This year's record-breaking sales came despite a poor harvest due to adverse weather.
"It was hard this season for growers - most of which are family businesses - to satisfy the increasing consumer demand and maintain positive financial results," Mr Olins said. "Given the weather was against us pretty much all year, the sales figures are encouraging.
"The wet and cool weather in May, followed by record-breaking high temperatures in June and July, coupled with an extremely wet August and a mild autumn made for just about the worst growing conditions possible, negatively impacting on production levels."