ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: INTERVIEW

ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: INTERVIEW

Heritage in variety

This year, Poupart is celebrating a 125th anniversary of its own. Fred Searle caught up with the various managing directors from Argent Group, Poupart Group and BerryWorld Group to hear how they have evolved over the years, and are adapting to today’s challenges

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Argent Group Europe

(Owner of the Poupart Group)
David Gray, managing director

How have Argent Foods’ various fresh produce businesses developed since they were created?

All of our businesses have grown since they were created and have developed their expertise and reputation. But only BerryWorld has developed an integrated global business that remains scalable.

How do the various parts of the Poupart and BerryWorld businesses interact and work together?

We have a number of frameworks that enable us to work together, but there is no compulsion to do so. Information is vital to us, whether that be on crops or markets, and we disseminate information informally around the group. In our planning processes we also actively consider how and if we should collaborate and identify opportunities to do so.

Scale and reach are a huge advantage – we remain nimble and quick to react to changes in circumstance, but size also means more structure, and we now cannot know everyone.

What changes do you envisage for the fresh produce industry and the Poupart and BerryWorld groups?

Covid-19 is a huge unknown – fresh produce, and particularly the areas we operate in, have seen good and sustained demand, but the ability of our suppliers to meet this demand is hard. We have Brexit, but above all we are resilient. We have excellent people so we will see change, but not necessarily as we may forecast it.

BerryWorld

Paul Avery, UK sales and insight director

What have been the most important periods in Ber-ryWorld’s 26-year history?

The establishment of our own varietal programmes; the onset of blueberry market growth; the establishment of our own brand; seeing our raspberries drive real changes in the industry to tiering and quality expectations; and working closely with teams from around the world to form one giant team, helping us all learn quicker.

How have you seen the fresh produce industry change over the years?

There is now more thought given to long-term investment and securing supply long term, with more consideration for the costs involved in producing rather than trading weekly. There has been huge change in sales by channel, selling fresh fruit in places we never thought possible.

The advent of online retail, a year-round presence on aisle ends in large retailers, and growth in the convenience channel have been great to see alongside new markets internationally.

Paul Avery believes there is still big potential to increase berry consumption

How has coronavirus changed the way you operate?

There have been increased communications, more global collaboration, better ways of working using technology, and more contact with our customers and retailers than ever. It has focused the business on what matters.

What do you think is key to success in today’s increasingly unpredictable fresh produce market?

It’s key to have great partners, confidence, and varieties and breeding genetics that solve the longer-term asks and needs of the consumer and grower.

There is huge potential for berries to become more regularly consumed. They are healthy and offer such a convenient way to eat, not only in the home but outside too. Growing to match this demand, while being sustainable year round, still holds massive opportunity.

Have you been involved in any NPD lately?

In collaboration with packaging partners Sharpak and Bantam Materials, BerryWorld has pioneered using Prevented Ocean Plastics in its punnets. This is plastic waste collected from the shoreline that is responsibly converted into high-quality packaging.

We think this is key for the future and will continue to support projects like these where we feel they match our brand values and those of our customers.

BerryWorld’s raspberries have heightened consumers’ quality expectations

The Orchard Fruit Company

Mark Culley, managing director of OrchardWorld

How did OrchardWorld come into being?

OrchardWorld was formed in 1989 and was the first joint venture company within Poupart, set up to supply the supermarkets as a specialist topfruit company. When we started OrchardWorld, English topfruit was a major part of our business and close to the heart of the company. This hasn’t changed. We have great partnerships in the English topfruit business, and our imports complement the English business, ensuring we have 12 months’ supply of all varieties.

How has the business changed since the establishment of The Orchard Fruit Company?

Three years ago, we formed The Orchard Fruit Company which combined OrchardWorld with Norton Folgate, who prior to this had absorbed Poupart’s well-established Citrus First business, creating a specialist tree fruit company. This is proving a great success with both companies still trading separately but sharing a lot of resource and marketing skills.

The resurgence of the English apple industry is meeting the demands of the retailers and consumers to source locally as much as possible. This is also happening in the cherry business with UK-grown fruit forming an increasingly essential part of annual supply.

Alongside our topfruit and stonefruit business, we also have a very successful citrus operation, which is now incorporated within Norton Folgate. We now market stonefruit, citrus and topfruit under The Orchard Fruit Company brand, which is focusing on top-quality products and varieties alongside innovation of specific mixed citrus packs.

The Orchard Fruit Company comprises the Norton Folgate cherry business

How is your business adapting to changes in the market?

The future is an ever-changing world of consumer demands and retail changes, both of which we continue to be very aware of. Online shopping has taken a huge jump in market share over the last six months, and we are well positioned to continue our successful developments of that retail sector.

We have had resource solely involved in online marketing for over five years, and it is this parpticular skillset that is positioning us so well to further build on our successes. This is totally complementary to our growing supermarket business across both OrchardWorld and Norton Folgate.

Poupart Imports

Jonathan Olins, managing director

How does Poupart Imports differ from the rest of the group?

Poupart Imports was set up 18 years ago to supply the non-supermarket sector and now achieves an annual turnover of £50 million. Our business is very different to the rest of the group.

Whereas our sister companies focus on category management, we supply the full range of fruits, exotics, salads and vegetables to a very diverse customer base of over 120 companies. We supply caterers, wholesalers, cruise lines, airlines, processors and service providers. We’re a one-stop shop for our customers.

What are the company’s main strengths?

The business has grown because we have a wide range of exclusive, quality brands from all over the world. Nearly all our exporters/growers are supplying the major supermarkets, but our sector can be particularly attractive as we are linked into the spot market and can often outperform supermarket prices.

We differ from our competitors in that we have two offices in Spain – one in Valencia and the other in Figueres, close to the French border, where all our European procurement is done. It is of great benefit to be close to our growers. We are also selling direct to our customers in the UK.

How have you fared during lockdown?

A high percentage of our business is with the ethnic trade, which is currently very successful. These clients only want the best quality and have done particularly well this year because shoppers have been looking for longer shelf life during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these customers have their own secondary wholesale units where the public are able to procure all their grocery shopping.

When it comes to product quality, we have seen a big change in the last two or three years. Many of our growers are changing their varietal spread which enables our business to grow.

Customers will pay much higher prices for the very best varieties which sell and eat well. As an example, our customers no longer want old varieties such as Thompson and Flame grapes; they have been superseded by new varieties such as Sweet Globe and Jack Salute.

PrepWorld recently developed a number of new product lines

PrepWorld

Benjamin Olins, chief executive

How has coronavirus changed your operations?

At PrepWorld, our prepared fruit factory has continued to operate throughout the crisis. Measures including isolating shift crossings, staggered start times and one-way systems have all helped ensure the health and wellbeing of all our staff are protected.

Since the outbreak, we have achieved uninterrupted supply to our customers, and also donated 67,000 fresh prepared fruit pots to the NHS frontline, at a time when healthy, nutritious food has been ever more important.

What new products has PrepWorld launched recently?

Between March and the end of September 2020, the team has developed multiple new product lines and ventured into new product categories to respond rapidly to changing consumer shopping habits.

Closely monitoring the trends driving market performance and consumer behaviours has led to the development of products specifically for the online channel and an increase in solo and larger, family pack formats, offering more cost-effective solutions to consumers and tapping into in-home snacking and scratch cooking growth.

How is PrepWorld using new technologies to make its production process more efficient?

We constantly look to stay close to new technological developments, from both a machinery and an IT perspective. Over the past four to five years, we’ve invested heavily in our physical processes and information flows. We now process one of the highest numbers of different fruit types in the industry, while also achieving one of the highest capacities.

With access to real-time productivity insight and data, we are constantly monitoring, reviewing, and utilising this data to continuously improve, not only our efficiency, but most importantly, our quality and service to our customers.

DID YOU KNOW?

The name Poupart derives from French Huguenots who settled in the Lea Valley and established the business in the late 19th century. They were originally fruit and vegetable growers but soon started importing fresh produce too and selling it at wholesale markets where they had a major presence.