Monthly Archives: October 2015

Ebtech starts greenhouse build

Hull-based greenhouse specialists Ebtech have begun work on a 7,500 sq. m extension for lettuce propagator PR & AJ Mercer, in Lancashire.

The project will see the new Venlo unit installed between existing glass houses and a shed, being attached to existing structures on three sides. Foundations and steelwork have been completed and the whole construction should be completed by mid-November.

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New supplement boosts predatory mites in crops

A new food supplement to boost predatory mites in crops has been launched in the UK by Biobest UK.

Unveiled at the Cucumber Conference earlier this month, Nutrimite™ is claimed to be the first commercially available supplement of its kind. “Nutrimite can help cucumber growers improve the effectiveness of bio control strategies for key pests – such as thrips, whitefly and spider mite – while reducing the overall cost of the programme,” explained Mark Wilde, technical account manager at Biobest UK.  “Based on specially selected pollen, this highly nutritious food source means growers can manipulate the development of pollen feeding polyphagous predatory mites, such as Amblyseius swirskii, Amblyseius cucumeris and Amblyseius andersoni.”

Nutrimite enables the mite population to be accelerated and enhanced in the absence of the pest or natural occurring pollen – for example in cucumbers and soft fruit crops before flowering. The company says its food supplement also allows growers to establish populations of predator mites exactly where they want them in the crop. Applied in programmed introductions, the supplement can be stored in a freezer and is applied using an adapted Matika blower with a Biobest Nutri-app attachment.

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Produce Investments sees profits fall

Produce Investments, the parent company of potato packer Greenvale, has said that it will close the recently acquired Kent Potato Company after a metal contamination incident at its prepared foods business could remove between £300,000 and £1.5 million from its results next year. In its latest results revenues fell from £191.8 million last year to £178.4 million.

The AIM-listed company is still investigating the issue at its Swancote Foods subsidiary in Shropshire, after a mechanical failure resulted in the recall of potato salad and ready meal products across a range of customers.

In a statement the company said; “Following a recent review of potato packing operations, the company is proposing to transfer all packing and associated operations from its site in Kent to sites in Cambridgeshire and Scotland. Regrettably, this would mean the closure of The Kent Potato Company site with associated redundancies.”

The company has won a three-year agreement at a fixed margin with one of its main retail customers. However, the deal has come with a reduction in overall volume from next July.
Chief executive Angus Armstrong said; “While this reduction…is clearly disappointing, we are extremely pleased to have achieved this arrangement, a first for our business, a signal of market confidence in Produce Investments and a positive step forward.

“Consequently, as a result of the reduction in volume, the company is currently reviewing its requirements across its packing facilities, aligning capacity to forecast sales and therefore ensuring that the business remains efficient and cost competitive.”

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Scottish growers worried about minimum wage

Growers in Scotland have warned that they will be unfairly penalised by plans to introduce a national living wage from April 2016.

According to the Scottish NFU (NFUS), growers may have to pay the national living wage to all staff, not just those over 25, as unlike England, Scotland retained the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board (SAWB). The union is now calling for the abolition of the SAWB.

NFU Scotland Chief Executive Scott Walker said, “Our members are committed to paying fair wages, but that has to be set against the unfairness of having a parallel employment system which only applies to Scottish agriculture. All this will have an impact on how competitive our growers are when it comes to putting fresh produce on the shelves.

“Growers in Scotland compete directly with farm businesses in England as well as the rest of Europe and wages can represent more than 40 per cent of the operating costs of such a business. The living wage will see any profit margin eliminated unless Scottish growers can recover the extra cost they face through the products they sell. If this doesn’t happen, then there will be less Scottish fruit and vegetables produced.”

In a comment aimed at retailers and other buyers he added; “The supply chain needs to recognise that what they pay for farm produce is the biggest determinant of what a business can afford to pay its staff and any sensible sourcing commitment from retailers needs to address this issue.”

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M&S to give surplus food to charity

According to reports, Marks and Spencer is to begin donating surplus food to charity. It will begin with 150 stores in December and plans to roll the scheme out to all of its stores early next year.

Following similar initiatives by Tesco and Sainsbury’s, M&S conducted a series of trials and pilots in 45 stores aimed at finding the most effective way of redistributing surplus food to ensure it is put to the best possible use.

Head of Responsible Sourcing Louise Nicholls said; “This is the first nationwide redistribution scheme to provide an innovative, practical solution to surplus food redistribution by building local connections, enabling all our stores to link with local food projects and help support their communities.” The products to be donated include ‘fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes and groceries [that are]nearing their expiry date.’

According to the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), UK supermarkets waste up to 200,000 tonnes of food a year. M&S will donate the food via Neighbourly, a social enterprise scheme which connects businesses with community projects. Neighbourly founder Nick Davies commented, “Putting food resources to the best possible use is a huge aspect of creating a sustainable planet.” Food charities keen to participate in the scheme can register online from Monday 12th October.

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Tesco apologises and improves payment terms

Tesco has said it will simplify its payment terms to suppliers as chief executive Dave Lewis apologised for its past trading tactics.

He told the press; “I want to make an apology for the way we behaved in the past. We are recovering from big, bad decisions.” Reports suggest that the retailer, which saw its underlying profits for the first half of this year fall 55 per cent, is in secret talks with the Serious Fraud Office about its £326 million accounting black hole, possibly with a view to agreeing a deferred prosecution agreement which would allow it to admit wrongdoing but avoid any immediate criminal sanctions.

Speaking at and IGD Conference in London earlier in October, Mr Lewis said Tesco will no longer use a combination of complex and varied terms, but will introduce a standard approach, which will offer concessions to help small and medium-sized businesses. Smaller suppliers, who deliver up to £100,000 worth of products in a year, will be paid within 14 days, whilst medium-sized suppliers who deliver up to £10 million in product value per year, will have their accounts settled five days quicker than larger suppliers in their category. For those supplying fresh produce to Tesco, payments will be made in 23 days, instead of the current 28 days.

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Ex-Bartlett MD joins Tyrells

Paul Parkins, the former Managing Director of potato company Albert Bartlett is to join Tyrells as International Managing Director according to media reports.

The newly created role is designed to help deliver ‘ambitious expansion plans’. The Herefordshire-based crisp and snack company recently purchased Melbourne-based Yarra Valley Snack Foods in a move widely seen as the prelude to manufacturing Down Under.

Parkins, who was only MD at Bartletts for one year, left the firm in 2014 to work for a food consultancy company. “Paul is a strong addition to our growing team and his passion and experience within the food sector are second to none,” said Tyrell’s’ chief executive, David Milner. “We are in an exciting position following our recent Australian expansion and want to ensure we have all the correct tools and resources in place to take our plan one step further globally. I look forward to working with Paul to help accelerate the international growth of the brand and drive our international agenda forward.”

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Blackmailer targets Spalding pumpkin grower

A 53 year old lorry driver from Boston in Lincolnshire has been jailed for eight years after blackmailing Spalding-based pumpkin producer David Bowman.

Michael Young said that he had injected the crop with potassium cyanide and demanded £50,000 in internet currency Bitcoins. In court in Lincoln, prosecution lawyer Stuart Lody said, “There is no evidence whatsoever that cyanide was ever used. The pumpkins contained water. The defendant sent photographs of pumpkins being injected with a substance and articles about potassium cyanide obtained from the internet.

“A letter said that the pumpkin crop had been selectively poisoned and warned Mr Bowman not to attempt to harvest or sell a single pumpkin until the blackmailer’s demands were fully met.”

However, David Bowman had to plough up a field with an estimated value of £120,000. In a victim impact statement he said; “I’ve had sleepless nights worrying how this callous and malicious crime will impact on my business.”

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Bumblebee dispenser features lock in system

Biobest has launched a new bumblebee hive box with an automatic lock-in system designed to protect the important pollinators in tomato greenhouses.

According to the company, this keeps the bumblebees safe during lighting periods, while also increasing the intensiveness of pollination when they are allowed to fly out. The system is particularly aimed at in crops grown under artificial lighting, particularly for tomatoes.

“Tomato growers who use bumblebees to pollinate their crops run the risk that the bees will fly into the artificial lights and die,” says Sam Gui, advisor at Biobest. “Thanks to our lock-in system, growers are able to keep their bumblebees inside when the lights are on.”

The lock-in system can also be used to protect the bumblebees when growers use pesticides on their crops, although the company stresses that with integrated production techniques, this is less of an issue these days.

Because the time that the bumblebees can fly out is restricted, it makes them work more intensively during this shorter period. “This is very interesting in the case of tomatoes,” says Sam Gui. After all, we know that pollination works better if it takes place in the morning, within a limited time span.”

The Biobest automatic lock-in system can be operated both manually and remotely with a compressed air system. Every hive has two flight openings: one is for flying ‘in’ and the second is for flying ‘in and out’. The lock-in system ensures that growers are able to close off the ‘in and out’ opening. At that point the bumblebees can only enter their hive but not leave it again.

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Aldi to open 1,000 stores & launch online

Discounter Aldi is continuing to buck the trend of difficult trading conditions in food retail, announcing that plans to open 65 stores this year are ‘on track’.

The German-based company also said it plans to open another 1,000 stores by 2022 and will launch an online offering next year. The company will initially sell cases of wine online, followed by non-food ‘Specialbuys’ later in the year.

In its last financial year Aldi’s sales rose 31% to £6.9 billion in the 12 months to 31 December, compared with £5.27 billion the year before. It is continuing to challenge rivals. Morrisons recently said it would no longer price-match Aldi and Lidl, while press reports suggest Aldi itself will ‘respond to price cuts from competitors with further discounts.’ However the price war is having an effect. Aldi’s operating profits fell by £11 million to £260.3 million in the last calendar year while pre-tax profits also slipped by £10.1 million to £250.6 million.

“We refuse to be beaten on price from anyone. People can buy exactly what they want from us rather than three of an item to qualify for a discount. We don’t bamboozle our customers with promotions,” said chief executive, Matthew Barnes.

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