This year The Fruitery, the ready-to-eat facility of Chambers in the UK, which supplies catering, food service and retail has started supplying customers in Europe as well as in the UK.
“We are starting to get traction now from all the work done last year when we launched,“ explains Rupert Carter Group Technical Director at The Fruitery. ”It has been a good, steady first year and we are happy with the results, we have invested £2 million in the project. We are looking at the range long term but at the moment we are focusing on berries which is our primary activity and is the core of the Chambers’ business, that is what we want to develop going forward but at the same time we are mindful that people have different markets and perspectives, so we may look at enhancing what we do but still with a berry focus.”
The Fruitery’s main ready-to-eat products are raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, apples and all the different berry types in various combinations, with different pack sizes. Ready to eat 80g packs and also food service packs up to 1.5kg. With deliveries 7 days per week under The Fruitery brand or white label.
“Importing is an important part of the Chambers’ business, we started importing five years ago and it has grown and grown supported by some retail contracts. The Fruitery benefits from that as we are constantly moving through the Chambers facility, we can cherry pick out what we want for the Fruitery quo variety, size and origin.”
Jeremy Harris joined the company recently as Commercial Manager heading up the sales on The Fruitery side to give a point of contact as The Fruitery is a very specialised part of the business. Jeremy who has a background in retail said that one of the main things for The Fruitery is the extended shelf life, “Where retailers are involved having extra shelf life is quite an important factor, if we can supply product which has two days extra shelf life then that is a big selling point reducing waste costs.”
The fruit is sourced from the Chambers’ production in the UK and imported from Europe and further destinations in the counter season. “Our volumes have increased a lot in the last few years. We are now growing product in Spain, Poland and Peru and are looking into growing in South Africa. This is not only for the Fruitery but also to expand the Chambers business,” said Rupert.
“These days it’s all about shortening the supply chain, sourcing directly from the grower so by growing in the UK and abroad and forming grower partnerships we hope to achieve this and so far it is working really well for us.”
The Fruitery is relatively new to this game and Rupert explains that getting into the market has been two-fold.
“People have made enquiries with us and we have gone to some of our existing clients with our ready-to-eat products. We also have a longer shelf life to what they have previously had, which is a huge plus point, we can offer this extended shelf life as the time from harvest to packing which is very short, we also use some of the latest technology such as UV instead of washes. We find that people do their own trials with our fruit on shelf life and they see it is just how we said it would be, so they come back, for us that’s key. The convenience market is still expanding so there is still plenty of room for growth.”
Now that Brexit has happened Rupert thinks the European side of the business will start to increase. “The exchange rate can be tricky, but you just have to manage it, we are no different to any other business, we have ups and we have been downs. Weather is also a variable, there has been bad weather recently in the UK and Europe and prices have increased, you have to keep an eye on everything, particularly when it comes to fixed pricing or contracts this is the hardest but you have to be able to adjust.”
Research has shown that younger people buy less berries and conventional fruit, they prefer to go for a convenience pack, and this is the area The Fruitery is targeting. The company is doing work with Westminster College to get some insight into the kind of fruit mixes people want.
“Packaging is a huge issue and as far as berries are concerned the industry have always tried to be one step ahead. We have moved to heat seal, reducing the weight of plastic used by around 40%. It is also about consistency of plastic and the grade. A lot of people have been talking about cardboard but is it more carbon hungry that plastic. We are cutting packaging in the supply chain by using reusable supermarket trays, we are also looking at materials such as sugarcane, fibre and bamboo. It is about trying get a balance between shelf life / food waste, less packaging and cost.“