Kent fruit supplier is expected to close in the second quarter after staff consultation

Kent fruit grower Bardsley England is in the process of being wound down by parent company Camellia Plc after suffering “unsustainable losses”.

Bardsley is a major supplier of apples

Bardsley is a major supplier of apples

Agriculture-focused investment group Camellia purchased an 80 per cent stake in Bardsley England back in August 2021. At that time, Bardsley – which produces apples, pears, cherries, plums and grapes – was the UK’s second-largest apple grower with 850ha of farming operations in Kent.

However, it has been a tough couple of years for the grower, which has posted heavy losses after struggling to cope with increases in the cost of labour, electricity, fertiliser, chemicals and fuel, and failing to gain sufficient returns from customers.

The business was restructured last year with the closure of farming operations in West Kent and the River Farm packhouse, alongside the refurbishment of the East Kent packhouse.

“Bardsley England has consistently failed to perform to expectation [since acquisition], incurring significant losses in each year,” Camellia said in a statement to investors. “A combination of factors has contributed to this unacceptable outcome. Attempts to mitigate cost increases through the restructurings undertaken in 2021 and again in early 2023 have had limited impact.”

Camellia said that despite the sales programme for Barsdsley’s 2023 harvest being in place, prices achieved are insufficient to mitigate the cost inflation hitting the business.

It noted that most of the UK topfruit sector is experiencing difficulties, leading many producers to remove orchards, discontinue planting, and in the worst cases stop farming altogether. 

‘Orderly wind down’

“Considering the trading environment, and despite the significant efforts made by Bardsley’s management to increase efficiency and to explore new, more profitable markets, it has become apparent there is no reasonable turnaround plan which would result in a profitable business,” Camellia’s statement continued.

“The losses are unsustainable and, as a result, Bardsley England is now consulting with its employees on a proposed orderly wind-down of the business.”

Customer programmes for the 2023 harvest will be supported, with the closure of all the company’s operations expected in the second quarter of the year, the company said. “Bardsley England is seeking to maximise the value realisation from its assets.”

The situation represents a significant fall from grace for Bardsley England, which had gained plaudits for its impressive growth and willingness to trial technological innovation in its farming practices. However it has been clear for some time that the business was struggling to cope with the narrow margins many growers receive for their product.

In Bardsley Horticulture’s annual report for the year ended 31 December 2022, the company posted a pre-tax loss of £6.9m on revenue of £18.1m, leading management to take action to address the situation. “In 2023, due to the significant increase in the cost of supply, which hasn’t been reflected in the increase in sales prices, the Bardsley England Group has made the decision not to farm less efficient orchards and to close the packing operations at its site in West Kent,” wrote director Robert Nithsdale.

The imminent closure of Bardsley England represents a further blow to the Kent fresh produce sector, after Canterbury-based fruit supplier Gomez went into administration last month.