Nationwide boss Tim O’Malley was unflinching in his assessment of the financial struggles at AH Worth Group business QV Realisations

A series of punchy one-to-one interviews with key industry leaders lit up the opening session on production and trade at Festival of Fresh 2024.

Outspoken event host and Nationwide Produce group MD Tim O’Malley was first to be interviewed by FPJ’s Michael Barker. He didn’t hold back when offering his unflinching perspective on the factors leading to the recent troubles at QV Realisations, part of AH Worth Group.

Nationwide has a separate joint venture with AH Worth Group called AGP to grade and pack onions. And with QV Realisations entering administration, Nationwide reported that it has taken over control of all of AGP’s retail supply contracts.

Administrators were appointed to QV Realisations in June. They cited surging costs and “volatile” potato pricing for the financial struggles at the potato packer and processor.

Nationwide growth

On a separate note, O’Malley cited “keeping a close eye on costing” as a crucial factor in Nationwide’s business success.

He stressed how far the firm has come since it was founded by his father, Bernard, in 1975.

The Nationwide boss recalled how the news of the business was met with uproar by the younger children of the O’Malley household. It meant he and his two brothers had to share a bedroom to make room for the company office.

“The business has since moved from our Anthony’s bedroom to something a lot bigger,” quipped O’Malley. “Now our turnover is nearly £200m a year.”

Further growth is anticipated as Nationwide invests in new packing facilities and automated processes, he said.

Opportunities in soft fruit

Barker’s next guest was John Gray, MD of Scottish berry supplier Angus Soft Fruits. He revealed that his firm is also innovating for the future by incorporating intelligent automated technology into its production and packhouses.

The Scot set out some of his company’s category-leading initiatives, including the launch of two late primocane raspberry varieties, Ava Monet and Ava Dali. Gray also detailed his Nuffield paper on growing producers’ share of the value chain.

“There are more opportunities to make breeding gains in soft fruit,” Gray said, “but we first we need to look at ways of simplifying our business.”

Future-proofing at DP World

Closing the session, Dirk Hoffmann – director of product development for UK ports and terminals at logistics giant DP World – discussed new investments at London Gateway. These include buying new cranes for ships that haven’t yet been built, and a £350m investment in converting the quayside to electric from diesel. “We are future-proofing the business,” he said.

Hoffman revealed that the port has also invested some £12m in installing post-Brexit border control points so that, if current UK border operating procedures were to change, London Gateway is ready for business, 24/7.

“We need to protect the cargo that flows into the system,” he said, adding that there is “huge potential” to develop the UK as an export nation.

Finally, Hoffman outlined a DP World campaign to raise the temperature on frozen produce. Launched at Cop28, the ‘-15°C campaign’ endorses dialling up freezer temperatures globally to -15°C, which preserves the produce while saving energy.

He also mentioned plans by Maersk to ripen bananas in containers en route from supply to market countries.

Festival of Fresh 2024 took place on 13 June on the pitch at Evesham United Football Club, in association with Nationwide Produce.