The beet of change

Posted on 3 Feb 2012

The UK food and drink industry is booming with exports up 12.2% in 2011 on 2010 and luxury products finding niche markets. Awardwinning manufacturer, G’s Fresh Beetroot is sharing in this success despite the potential disadvantages inherent from its much maligned root vegetable product. John Silcox finds out more about an innovative approach to marketing and customer focus.

“Many people don’t care about beetroot or think that they don’t like it,” says Graham Forber, managing director of G’s Fresh Beetroot. “But we do and it’s our job to kill off this negative image and replace it with the truth. Beetroot is a fresh, exciting and healthy product that should be embraced by all.”

G’s Fresh Beetroot is the UK’s largest manufacturer of fresh beetroot
G’s Fresh Beetroot is the UK’s largest manufacturer of fresh beetroot

And it appears that Forber and his team are doing just that, if you consider that the company accounts for a 65% share of all fresh beetroot sales in the UK – with £22 million turnover in 2010. Thanks to highquality manufacturing and innovative marketing, G’s Fresh Beetroot has transformed the humble beetroot from a simple vegetable, into a premium quality food product that comes with no preparation hassle, a competitive price and plenty of health benefits.

Based in March, Cambridgeshire, G’s Fresh Beetroot is the UK’s largest manufacturer of fresh beetroot and benefits from its proximity to the vegetable’s main farming base found in the Fenlands. Since the company’s foundation in the 1970s, it has enjoyed considerable growth and now processes nearly 20,000 tonnes of the red vegetable at its 15,800sqm plant, purpose built in 2001 on a brownfield site.

The company is a subsidiary of the G’s Group Holdings Limited, a salad-farming business that supplies fresh vegetables such as lettuce, onions, radish and celery to supermarket and retail chains including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Marks & Spencer, and Waitrose. G’s Fresh Beetroot shares many of the same clients. The annual group turnover is £350 million and it controls farming operations in the UK, the Czech Republic, Senegal and Spain.

“We treat our individual customers needs carefully by producing products that are tailored to the needs of the end consumer” – Graham Forber, managing director, G’s Fresh Beetroot

“G’s Fresh Beetroot is owned by the G’s Group but it enjoys quite a lot of independence,” explains Forber. “The group dictates general policy on a corporate scale, but then it’s up to us to decide how it is best applied. We have control over the day-to-day running of the company.”

The company makes four core product lines: fresh cooked beetroot, which is vinegar dipped; long-life sterilised beetroot without additives or flavourings, which is vacuum-packed; a new range of flavoured recipe beetroot; and grocery-style beetroot in plastic jars. These are available in organic ranges, too.

Thanks to a relatively small production range, G’s Fresh Beetroot adapts each of its products to demand and delivers a tailored product to each of its clients.

Forber explains: “We treat our individual customers needs carefully by producing products that are tailored to the needs of the end consumer, for example if you take a Sainsbury’s branded vinegar-dipped beetroot and a Waitrose Essentials equivalent, you can actually taste the difference, because they are individual products despite both being made in our factory.”

Success tastes sweet

‘Flavoured’ beetroot is the most recent innovation and the company has a range of marinated fresh products such as Sweetfire, a chillicoated beetroot, and orange blossom honey beetroot. These developments further help to change the public perception of beetroot and achieve a better market penetration.

Forber expands on the company’s desire to encourage younger customers into the marketplace and break with the traditional image of beetroot. He says: “These new flavours have been really successful and we’re growing the product line with more types of this initiative. But we must strain to stay competitive and keep prices down to a minimum for this to work. Flavours alone aren’t enough.”

G’s Fresh Beetroot has taken a step further towards burying bad connotations attached to beetroot by setting up a website, celebrating the merits of the root vegetable. “Lovebeetroot. co.uk is a website we launched to bring beetroot towards the public, putting it in front of a wider audience and give people a better understanding of the product,” says Forber. “Everybody’s on Twitter, Facebook and other interactive sites today, so it’s a good way for us to reach out to more consumers and get them to understand what we’re trying to achieve. It also enables us to display the products we release there and debate what’s good and bad about beetroot. Not much is bad, by the way.”

“With mechanisation of the production line comes the need for more and more specialised and highly trained staff” – Graham Forber

As well as attracting more potential customers, this innovative approach to product marketing has also earned a number of awards for G’s Fresh Beetroot. In November 2011, the company won the Innovation and Design Award at the RBS sponsored Manufacturer of the Year Awards.

“Winning was a great surprise,” beams Forber. “But I believe we well deserved it. It was brilliant to be recognised within the manufacturing world, because fresh produce is often dismissed as not being manufacturing. But it really is.”

RBS relationship director Bob Annable says: “I am delighted to see one of our customers being rewarded with such a prestigious award. G’s Fresh Beetroot is a very interesting company within an exciting and innovative Group which I expect will continue to build on its success as the business expands in the future.”

Uprooting tradition for a productive future

In order to remain sustainable in the face of mounting energy, produce and labour costs, G’s Fresh Beetroot is increasing automation at its plant, with sophisticated robots taking over tasks traditionally performed by manual workers.

Forber justifies this decision to reduce the number of employees by pointing to the fact that remaining staff will benefit from an increase in specialisation. “We like to invest in our staff and help them develop as much as possible,” he insists. “With mechanisation of the production line comes the need for more and more specialised and highly trained staff. So we may be losing in quantity but we’re gaining in quality.”

This packing automation will require heavy capital investment, which will come in part from the group’s own funds.

“RBS really understand our business model and sector, and provide effective solutions for us”, adds Forber. “We have a brilliant long-standing relationship with the bank and it’s great to know that whenever we want help, we can get in touch and they will provide a rapid answer. Because of this we’re confident to continue working together well into the future.”