Meet the woman who may have the world’s sweetest job – travelling the world creating and tasting some of the juiciest strawberries.
Lucy Slatter is head breeder at AVA Berries and is paid to matchmake and scoff the most attractive-looking and tasting fruits available.
The fruit breeder has held the plum role for just five months but has enjoyed a life-long love affair with the scarlet fruit.
From a young age Lucy has enjoyed tucking into a bowl of strawberries, and now gets paid to pair the best plants together and try up to 20 a day.
When she’s not shooting Cupid’s bow at the perfect parent plants, Lucy also gets the chance to jet abroad to fruit farms in the Netherlands and Spain to oversee the creative process and bring them back to the UK.
Lucy is responsible for creating the best looking and tastiest strawberries for AVA Berries and says it’s a ‘dream’ job.
Lucy said: “I’ve always been a berry lover. I don’t know any other job where you get paid to eat strawberries, that’s a serious perk of the job.
“No two days are the same, the nature of breeding is very dynamic and fast paced.
“I also get to travel quite a lot. I’m based near Evesham in Worcestershire, but we have trial sites in Scotland and additional trial sites around the country and in Europe including Spain and the Netherlands.
“It’s absolutely great to see how the fruit’s doing in different places and get to explore these places, it’s a dream scenario.”
When she’s not matchmaking the perfect parent plans, Lucy said she gets the chance to taste the fruit of her labours every single day.
Lucy said: “As soon as there’s fruit on the plant, we have the opportunity to taste it.
“Most days there’s some sort of tasting going on. This can vary from just off the plant and getting a feel for if we like it to more official structured tastings with us and with panels of people.
“In theory we could be tasting hundreds a day, but we don’t, we have to scale that back a bit. We try and aim for no more than 20 a day.
“My perfect berry is a good-sized one with a lovely typical conical shape with a really nice shiny, glossy bright red colour.
“You’ve got to be a very specific matchmaker when it comes to creating a juicy-tasting glossy-looking fruit.
“The way we achieve this is we choose varieties that we would like to use as parents, and we choose these based on their characteristics.
“If we have a variety that we really like but is a bit weaker in other areas, for example a shiny strawberry that is a bit weaker on flavour, then I would consider crossing it with something with a stronger flavour.
“In the process of crossing, we combine the female part of one plant and the male part of another to mix up the two genetics, so you end up with lots of siblings to choose from.
“Then we start testing these over years to select the best ones.
“I really enjoy the start and the end of the process. Where you get a chance to choose the varieties that will shape our future in five-eight years’ time it’s really exciting.
“Equally at the other end I really enjoy the selection process- you get to taste the fruit and decide if you think it’s better than others available. It’s absolutely fascinating.
“It can take at least eight years to make it to the supermarket. It’s a labour of love but definitely worth the wait.”
But not just anyone can do the role. The perfect breeder and taster needs a specific palate, that is regularly tested, to ensure the tastiest berries hit supermarket shelves.
Lucy said: “We regularly screen everyone in the business to see who can really distinguish between different tastes.
“Believe it or not a lot of people either can’t taste particular flavours or muddle up sugar and salt.
“We need to be confident that our strawberries have the best flavour so we need to make sure those people with the full range are testing them.
“There aren’t many of us that can do this and if I were to lose my taste, for example from covid or a cold, it would make my job a lot harder.
“We cleanse our palates between tastings either with water or a table biscuit or cracker as they really clean your mouth out.
“The other one to be proven or disproven is champagne. It would be a lovely decadent way to spend the day, but I’m not sure what our company policy would say about that.”