Branston is now one of the biggest potato suppliers in the UK. The company, with three well positioned sites, to give easy access to the best potato crops in Lincoln, Ilminster and Perth, supplies fresh and prepared potatoes for a select few retailers and wholesalers. Branston has made headlines recently, by introducing innovative potato varieties at Tesco, and also for its charity actions to local communities.
PotatoBusiness asked James Truscott, managing director with Branston for more details about the company’s future plans and actions.
By Ioana Oancea
PotatoBusiness (PB): In 2018 your company is celebrating 50 years on the market. Looking back, what can you tell us about the timeline of the company since its launch?
James Truscott (JT): “Branston was originally founded by a group of farmers in Branston, near Lincoln, who were growing peas and potatoes, primarily for processing. In 1976 the drought that struck the UK pushed them to invest in irrigation and this lead to a change in direction – into table potatoes.
In the late 80s they could see that the retail market for potatoes was taking off and the first prepack potatoes were produced. In 1990 the company began packing for Tesco and over the next two decades as the potato industry consolidated they took opportunities for expansion, acquiring potato packing sites in Somerset (1997) and Perth (2004).
Seeing an opportunity to provide fresh potatoes in a more convenient format, Branston branched out into prepared foods in 2005. As demand grew for prepared potato products the company invested GBP3.5m in a purpose-built high-care factory at the Lincoln site. It was designed to be as environmentally-friendly as possible and in 2010 it was awarded the RICS award for sustainability.
In 2012 Branston increased capacity further and began working with Waitrose and Booker.
In 2016 the Prepared foods factory was extended to accommodate a peeling facility as part of a major initiative with Tesco to reduce waste in the supply chain. It means that all of the crop can be used in the most cost-effective and efficient way as we can peel the potatoes that don’t quite make the grade for packing and supply them to one of Tesco’s ready-meal manufacturers.
Branston currently employs 780 people. It is still privately owned, with some with some of the original founding farmers still involved in the business.”
PB: The potato industry is increasingly competitive nowadays. What differentiates Branston from other competitors?
JT: “We work incredibly closely with our customers and focus on long-term sustainability, investing in technology and people to keep us ahead.”
PB: Innovation is an important driver for a business nowadays. Can you tell us more about your company’s innovations, that are dedicated to the potato industry?
JT: “Our approach to innovation is to always think about improving the potato offer for the end customer. That’s what is going to keep them coming back for more and sustain the industry for the future.
So we look for innovation from end-to-end: in the field, factory and finished products. We’re working hard to improve potato varieties and have an extensive breeding program to develop potatoes that are tastier, easier or quicker to cook. We’re investing in our factories to make sure that our grading and packing equipment is as efficient as it can possibly be and we’ve introduced innovation in packaging technology that extends shelf life for our products.”
PB: A good communication with customers can be a defining factor to establishing long lasting partnerships. What are your experiences in that regard?
JT: “We have very close relationships with a small number of critically important customers. These are built up over time and extend throughout the business. So it’s not just about sales people talking to Buyers people: we have relationships with our customers’ teams throughout – in Technical, Logistics and New Product Development as well as the Commercial teams.”
PB: How does Branston choose its suppliers? Which are the criteria? Please also provide details on the new potato varieties introduced by Branston at Tesco.
JT: “In simple terms, the best potatoes are grown on the best land, so we work with the growers who have great land and who share our values. They need to be dedicated and professional, with a focus on producing great quality potatoes for the end customer.”
PB: What are the main challenges for your company in the next year and how it will be affected by Brexit?
JT: “Our concerns over Brexit tend to centre around labor availability. We have a number of EU Nationals in our workforce and the uncertainty around their future in the UK is quite unsettling.”
PB: In 2016, Branston made important investments in its production line in Perthshire site. Can you unveil for us some of your investment plans for the next period?
JT: “As a business we have a great track record of reinvestment in quality and efficiency. Following on from our investment at our Scotland site last year, this year we have a significant investment plan for our Lincoln site, where we will be upgrading some of our production lines and installing some of the latest in packing technologies.”
PB: Branston has been involved in many charity projects recently. Can you please detail on Branston this topic?
JT: “We think it’s important to contribute to the communities that we operate in and be good neighbors at all our sites. Volunteering projects really give something back to the local community so we’re happy to help out and provide our employees’ time and skills wherever we can.
We like to focus on local worthy causes that are close to our employees’ hearts so every year each of our sites votes for a charity to support and we build our fundraising around these to try and maximize the impact of our efforts.
There’s a range of activities at each site – from sporty to fun. Our Annual Cycle ride – the Branston Century - is the biggest event in our fundraising calendar with cyclists from all sites, joined by customers and suppliers, cycling a grueling 100-mile route around Lincolnshire. You may have heard that Lincolnshire is flat, but I can assure you we have some pretty challenging hills! We’re looking forward to the next one, which will be in September.”