In the annual report and accounts for the period to 26 April 2019, posted on Companies House, chief executive Ian Craig said that last year’s summer had generated bumper vegetable crops across Europe, lowering prices. In addition, the heat had shrunk harvests for Thanet Earth and this, coupled with tighter supply of labour and higher winter energy bills, meant the division had delivered “a disappointing result”.
Meanwhile, at Fresca’s potato and vegetable business Manor Fresh, the sweltering weather had reduced consumer demand and had also hit crops. Its DGM Growers unit faced similar pressures, but this was offset by strong performance in seasonal vegetables, including UK asparagus. The group expected to announce the completion of the redevelopment of the unit’s Holbeach site this autumn, boosting capacity and efficiency, especially in areas such as chicory production. Fresca is still the only UK commercial grower of chicory.
The group underwent significant restructuring across 2018-2019. MM Global Citrus Limited ceased trading at the end of the financial period, with citrus activities becoming amalgamated under Mack Fruit.
The Fresh Produce Centre
Fresca’s Mack Fruit, FreshPlus and The Avocado Company units – based at its Paddock Wood site – moved to trade under a new subsidiary: The Fresh Produce Centre Limited. Driven by the warm seasonal weather, the facility handled its largest-ever volumes of fruit. Fresca Group operations director Tim Espley added the role of managing director of that subsidiary to his remit in June.
The success of joint venture Fresquita Farms in Colombia fuelled an increase in avocado production.
The Primafruit business strengthened its relationship with key customer Waitrose and invested in banana ripening rooms, additional packing space and cold storage. It also increased intake and unloading capacity to allow for growth in banana volumes and increased business in other categories.
As a result of these developments, Craig said Fresca was “reviewing the future of its Bishop’s Stortford satellite banana ripening facility”.
Fresca said Brexit remained a concern, particularly in areas such as sterling devaluation, port delays, haulage and labour availability. “Our robust international supply network ensures alternative sourcing options and our own customs clearing arm Fresh Clear has provided insights into the risks and opportunities surrounding Brexit,” said Craig.
Labour and availability of workers remained another core concern, he said. “Our workforce is diverse and international. Recruitment has become harder in recent months with noticeably fewer applicants for vacancies.
“This issue is affecting our agencies, too, with additional labour providers required to guarantee worker availability. The group continues to invest in automation where possible, to ensure high standards for worker welfare at our sites and to offer increased training and development opportunities to encourage retention.”
Pre-tax profit at Fresca Group increased from £5m to £5.6m in the period to 26 April 2019, on group turnover, including its share of joint ventures' sales, down 4% to £444.5m.