Alice Jones  -  Understanding varieties, husbandry techniques and best practice in the commercial cultivation of elders for the UK elderflower processing industries

Thatchers Cider

I graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2004 with a BSc Hons in Food Science and have worked in a wide variety of technical roles in the food industry, including product and process development, R&D, and food safety and quality management in both consumer and ingredient food processors. The majority of my career has been based in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), operating in the artisan and or premium end of the drinks and juice industry where sensory quality and distinctiveness are essential.  During this time I have spent much time working closely and collaboratively with ingredient suppliers and growers, to ensure supplies of high quality, interesting and authentic produce can be sourced in a sustainable way. I am a firm believer in the value of integrated food supply chains, am passionate about quality, integrity and authenticity in food products and believe that these attributes are best achieved when growers and processors know each other and work together. 

I am passionate about flavour and sensory science, an interest that began with my undergraduate research project, looking at the effect of the viscosity of sauces on flavour release and perception, and this interest has stayed with me throughout my career.I have applied sensory evaluation techniques in most of my roles to inform product development, process development, quality control and marketing functions. In 2016, I came back to the University of Nottingham as a Sensory Scientist in the Enabling Innovation Team which supports local Food and Drink SMEs with food science consultancy- this is my current role.  The role involves working between academia and businesses, to translate scientific knowledge and principles into a form that can be practically applied in a food business. Knowledge transfer is another theme in my career which started when I completed a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Lincoln and Belvoir Fruit Farms Ltd.  It was during this time that I entered the fascinating world of elderflowers, delivering an MPhil thesis about the links between elderflower processing conditions and flavour in drinks and I became captivated by people’s love for this quintessentially British flavour. So, whilst my career moved on to other products and places I continued to collect information about elders, even experimenting with growing a few myself.  Whilst living and working in Herefordshire, working on blackcurrant and apple processing, I realised that people, more often than not, still came to talk to me about elderflowers and this has developed over the years into me offering specialist consultancy services within the field of elderflower processing and sourcing. 

I live in Melton Mowbray, with my partner, Adrian, and most of my spare time is spent working on my perennial garden or allotment and preserving and processing the produce that comes from that!  

I am extremely grateful to my sponsor Thatchers Cider sponsoring my project. 

Traditionally the industries using elderflowers in the UK have relied largely on wild, hand- picked flower. In recent years, I have seen how the elderflower processing industries in the UK have grown in size, and there are an increasing number of products on the shelves that use elderflower both sold nationally and exported around the world. I have also witnessed an increasing need for sustainable supply sources to be built for future growth. Likewise, from my links with growers, I can see there is an interest in new high value crops for the future in the UK. 

My project aims to investigate how elders could be ‘domesticated’ and cultivated as a commercially viable UK crop, both in a technical sense, in terms of strategies to maximise productivity and yield and in terms of strategies to make such a new crop sustainable and resilient to the changing UK environment.  Also I want to study potential farming systems,models and industry support mechanisms in which elders could be incorporated to provide adequate returns to growers and therefore encourage interest in its sustained cultivation.