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2015 May Be the Most Challenging Ever in UK Fresh Produce

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2015 May Be the Most Challenging Ever in UK Fresh Produce

2015 May Be the Most Challenging Ever in UK Fresh Produce
March 02
09:17 2015

The next twelve months may be among the most challenging ever for the fresh produce industry, according to specialist recruitment consultancy MorePeople, which has just completed its first-ever ‘Best for Business Barometer’. This polls the opinion of a small number of people at the highest level in fresh produce every six months to determine the current state of the industry.

Key challenges identified include:

  • Changes to the structure of retailing, driven by changing consumer behaviour
  • A continuation of the fierce competition on the high street together with a lack of real growth in wages and sales volumes
  • Issues over recruitment at the senior level, and attracting interest from graduates
  • A resulting continuation of consolidation in the sector.

Guy Moreton, Director and Founder of MorePeople says: “What is striking is the degree of consistency from all our panel members, who are leading lights in fresh produce, manufacturing and retailing. They clearly recognise that this is a time of huge changes, both in retailing and across the supply chain. The industry desperately needs to attract and develop talent in senior management positions across commercial, sales and general management who can respond to this dynamic environment, as well as to attract young people in to this challenging and fast paced industry.”

The panel consisted of a small number of ‘movers and shakers’ in the industry including Frank Robinson, Produce World Group; Mark Newton, Freshtime; Susan Barratt, Nature’s Way; Mike Attwood, Subway; and Mark Player of Total Produce.

They recognised that continued price deflation and declines in food consumption are creating pressures for retailers. While real wages are not rising, there is increased competition for the pound in the consumers’ pocket, and less of it is being spent on food.

For the retail sector itself the increased competition from the discounters is a well-documented phenomenon. At the same time consumer habits are changing with more people doing more, smaller shops, and this is one of the factors which is leading to less waste. As a result there is a structural change away from what one respondent described as ‘big box’ stores towards smaller, convenience outlets, and this will drive costs higher for suppliers.

However, it was not all gloom and doom. Mark Newton of Freshtime expects to see more growth this year, while Mike Attwood’s main problems revolve around the rate of growth at Subway.

He says: “We expect to double in size over the next five to six years, so challenges are around ensuring we have the ability to produce product for a much bigger estate. Given this growth, I’m confident that suppliers will be keen to work with us.”

When it came to recruitment Mike Attwood was an exception to the rule, nearly all the participants said that recruiting the right people was an issue or a major issue for their businesses. Having a recognisable brand name on the high street was seen as a definite help for Subway.

A number identified the fact that the fresh produce industry has an image problem – either because it has a bad image or no image at all.

Frank Robinson of Produce World says: “The industry can be seen as uninteresting and dull, with many people being ambivalent about it. That’s because they don’t know what it has to offer, and, in fact, that it’s dynamic, exciting and fast paced. The supermarkets recognise the value of the category and the importance of having the right people to drive growth and change.”

Mark Newton of Freshtime agrees: “For us recruitment is an issue, but not a major one. Location can be a problem, but it just means we have to work a bit harder to sell ourselves. For the industry as a whole it is a concern. It’s not the sexiest of the industries and good agronomists, in particular, are in short supply.”

However, it was in the area of commercial and sales staff, and senior management that most admitted there was a very real problem.

Popular solutions for solving these problems adopted by the different companies represented included graduate recruitment, and training and developing junior staff to fill senior roles. Also two of the companies have started, or were considering starting, apprenticeship schemes.

While there was no clear trend in terms of the way that their businesses had performed over the past twelve months, most were optimistic about next year including, surprisingly, the one retailer interviewed.

Respondents were also asked about their ‘wish list’ for 2015 and this yielded some surprisingly diverse answers including:

  • An upturn in the market
  • Good graduates who have a desire and enthusiasm to work in the industry
  • Consolidation of the grower base
  • A robust and restructured Tesco
  • Changes around pricing to ensure that costs such as utilities and minimum wages costs can be passed on
  • A new government investment that is willing to invest in food security
  • A joined-up approach between retailers and their suppliers with long-term (5-10 year) commitment.

Guy Moreton adds: “I’m sure all of us would like to see these changes come about in 2015. As a company we have been working with a number of Universities, Schools and industry organisations to promote the industry, to raise awareness of the great opportunities it offers and to encourage more graduates to come into fresh produce and food manufacturing – so we are doing our best to make sure that at least one of those wishes comes true!”

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