Our produce experts visit suppliers on a regular basis. Part of the reason for this is to ensure that they are living up to our high standards, but mainly we like to work in close partnership with our suppliers. There’s no substitute for meeting them face to face in the heart of their operation.
Sean Wainwright and Simon Rigby visited Blackdown Growers and you can read their report below.
About Blackdown Growers
Based in Leamington Spa, Blackdown Growers are specialist providers of baby leaves and herbs. Their range includes product to be ‘washed and prepared’ for the UK salad market, and ‘unwashed -wash before eating’ prepacked salads and herbs for catering and retail.
With 3 sites in Warwickshire and protected glasshouse growing they can guarantee their own produce all year round.
They list their company values as:
Freshness: ‘We strive to supply the freshest produce that we can grow ourselves or procure through our approved suppliers.’
Adaption: ‘We adapt to meet the demands of our customers and changing market conditions and trends.’
Service: ‘We put service first, and provide at all times the best we can possibly offer, to satisfy anyone who deals with our company.’
Traceability: ‘We will provide fully documented business procedures – we are accountable for any products that we provide.’
We attended Blackdown Growers on a very hot day, the setting for their operation is outstanding, and the fields are absolutely immaculate, due to the GPS tracking that is used to navigate their tractors. It was my first time visiting a site like this and the day was extremely informative, we got to see what happens from start to finish.
The Glasshouse and Growing Areas
The first part of the tour took us into one of the glasshouses, which all have their own automated irrigation systems installed. The outdoor growing areas also have these in place, meaning that water can be pumped from their very own borehole. A glasshouse can produce 6 crops per year, whereas outdoor growth is only 3 on average, which highlights the importance of a controlled atmosphere. The photos here show the mixed leaf crops growing very nicely inside a glasshouse.
After Harvesting – The Packing Facility
We then moved inside to see where the produce is taken once it has been harvested. The packing facility has 4 purpose-built fridge coolers and various automated packing lines, most notably the Multi-Head Weigher & Bagging Machine, which can produce up to 40 packs per minute! Here you can see how the spinach enters the machine and is spun around, sorted and then travels down the conveyor belt, where it is then automatically weighed and bagged, all without damaging any of the leaves.
Storing the Fresh Produce
The final part of our tour gave us some insight into how the fresh produce is stored, both before and after packaging. The refrigerated rooms are temperature-controlled to keep the crops in the coolest possible environment after harvesting. The top layers are usually covered with plastic sheets to help prevent drying out.
Sean Wainwright has just recently joined our Procurement Team. He has spent the last decade working in the retail industry, with various roles covering senior management and procurement.
He is here to offer help & advice within all categories including meat, dairy, bakery, fish, fruit & veg, with guidance from the other experts within the team. Sean’s focus is to help bring new suppliers of all categories onboard.