AMFRESH, Nationwide Produce and Jack Ward of British Growers were among the award winners at FPJ’s open-air summer festival in Alconbury Weald

Forward-thinking investments, innovative marketing, sustainable initiatives, and industry collaboration were celebrated in the inaugural Festival of Fresh Awards on 21 June.

Eye-catching trophies adorned with the Festival of Fresh logo were presented to winners in five categories at FPJ’s flagship event in Alconbury Weald at the new site of AMFRESH, Britain’s biggest fresh produce supplier.

The award winners, chosen by FPJ’s editorial team for outstanding achievement in the UK fruit and vegetable industry, were as follows:

Retail Supplier of the Year: AMFRESH

Non-retail Supplier of the Year: Nationwide Produce

Marketing Magic Award: UK & Ireland Mushroom Producers

Sustainable Champion Award: Foundation Earth and Abel & Cole

Editor’s Award: Jack Ward (British Growers Association)

Major expansion at AMFRESH

Presenting the awards, FPJ editor Fred Searle commended AMFRESH for its huge recent sales growth and expansion into several new product categories, namely topfruit, tropical fruit and exotics.

The company leapfrogged IPL to claim the top spot in the FPJ Big 50 Companies 2023, and it has embarked on several new partnerships in international production and IP over the past 18 months.

In addition, AMFRESH has opened a brand-new site in Alconbury Weald near its existing MM Flowers packhouse, creating one of the most highly automated fruit packing facilities in the UK.

The new site is also home to a ground-breaking Innovation Centre, which AMFRESH intends to open up to the wider industry. The centre will include laboratories and tasting facilities designed to boost product quality, particularly when it comes to flavour and storage life.

Searle acknowledged that it “might look a little odd” to give the retail supplier award to this year’s Festival of Fresh host, but assured the audience that choosing AMFRESH wasn’t in any way a “thank-you-for-having-us gesture”.

Nationwide’s dynamism

In the non-retail category, Nationwide Produce prevailed and was praised by FPJ’s editorial staff for its dynamism and strong recent financial performance. Turnover and pre-tax profits increased by 19.2 per cent and 16.6 per cent respectively in the last FPJ Big 50 Companies guide.

The supplier has become more vertically integrated and now offers a ‘source-to-customer’ service, which has helped Nationwide win new business.

Earlier this year the business also invested £3.5 million in an extension to its Evesham site, which has significantly expanded its overall storage and delivery capacity.

The site extension has seen Nationwide take significant steps on the road to net zero through investments in renewable power and greener cooling technology.

In April, the business also launched a new premium British asparagus brand called Spear It.

When he collected his trophy, O’Malley dedicated the award to his father Bernard who founded Nationwide Produce back in 1975.

“He’s 87 now but still Chairman of the Board and still passionately interested in the company and our humble industry,” O’Malley said. “He’s a ’glass half full’ guy – always supportive and encouraging to us, his three boys.”

Marketing magic in mushrooms

In the Marketing Magic category, the Festival of Fresh Award went to UK & Ireland Mushroom Producers for its year-round efforts to boost sales of the vegetable through innovative marketing campaigns.

The multimedia campaigns, run by creative agency Spinnaker, were designed to show the versatility, sustainability and nutrition of mushrooms in a bid to boost sales frequency.

This included a 2022 summer campaign called ‘There’s more magic with mushrooms’, as well as a winter campaign with the tagline ‘Get a vit hit’ that encouraged shoppers to increase their vitamin D intake by eating mushrooms.

Eco labels take sustainability gong

With sustainability now central to most major suppliers’ operations, the Sustainable Champion Award was a difficult one for the FPJ team to pick a winner for. Ultimately, it was a retail initiative that gained the plaudits, and the prize was won jointly by Foundation Earth and Abel & Cole.

In February the veg box supplier became the first retailer to introduce Foundation Earth’s eco labelling across its entire fruit and vegetable range, with products scored on impacts such as CO2 emissions and water pollution.

Foundation Earth is an independent non-profit that brings together scientists and leading industry figures. It aims to unite the food industry behind a single eco-labelling system by working with Life Cycle Assessment experts to gather data and map supply chains.

The Eco Impact scoring system ranges from A+ (green) to G (red), and in total Abel & Cole has submitted data for 87 fruit and vegetable lines.

Jack Ward lands Editor’s Award

Rounding off the awards ceremony, British Growers CEO Jack Ward won the coveted Editor’s Award for his work as a tireless champion of the UK vegetable sector.

Ward, who spoke in several sessions at Festival of Fresh, played an instrumental role in setting up a new organisation called Horticulture Crop Protection at a time of uncertainty around crop protection in UK horticulture.

HCP’s purpose is to take over the processing of pesticide minor use applications (EAMUs) and emergency authorisation applications following the wind-down of AHDB Horticulture.

The new organisation operates on a ‘not for profit’ basis and is owned and funded by the UK’s horticultural crop associations, which collect voluntary subscriptions from their growers.

FPJ recognised Ward’s central role in bringing the industry together and persuading growers to back the new organisation. And Searle praised the CEO of British Growers for stepping up and filling the vacuum in crop protection that was left after the AHDB ballot to scrap the horticulture levy.