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Meet the finalists: Business Leader of the Year

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Who will win Business Leader of the Year 2024?
Who will win Business Leader of the Year 2024?

Related tags Leadership Food manufacture excellence awards Business

The finalists for the 2024 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards have been announced; here’s a bit more about those in the line-up for Business Leader of the Year.

Marc Burbidge - B3 Labs

Marc Burbidge has worked as a store manager for Asda for more than five years. He set up B3 Labs in 2019 to make the best herbal and CBD supplements in the space after he became ill and started looking into herbal medicines.

Following his recovery, he began making remedies for friends and family. Passionate about the herbal medicine, cannabinoids and supplements, and disappointed by what was already on the market, he created B3 Labs.  

B3 Labs is now the most certified CBD manufacturer in Europe – and was the continent’s first BRCGS certified CBD finished product manufacturer, achieving an AA rating.

With the regulatory landscape being particularly difficult to navigate, many companies have left the industry due to the complexity and costs associated. B3 Labs has not only survived but grown. Under Burbidge’s stewardship it has recently moved into a bigger facility (10,000sq ft facility) to expand its product lines to meet demand.

After surviving the novel foods saga and a pandemic, the business is now at the cusp of doubling its turnover to £6m in the next financial year, with almost a 40% market share of the UK CBD industry.

Burbidge describes leadership as a role that allows people to grow and nurture people.

B3 labs hires young, ‘untrained’ people from its local area (the northwest of England, Greater Manchester in particular). None of its leadership team have university degrees, with the all being trained from the ground-up.

“It's great that the business metrics are growing (revenue, profitability), but the biggest indicator of our success is the fact that the culture is impeccable – our team love coming into work. Feel free to ask them!”​ Burbridge’s entry read.

The business has also raised over £4,000 for various charities, including for multiple sclerosis awareness, cancer research, and Muslim charities during Ramadan.

Alongside his role at B3 Labs, Burbidge also advises the Laboratory of Government Chemists (LGC) on safe levels of controlled cannabinoids (THC) and how to test for them.

Andrew Hewston - Bumble Hole Foods

Andrew Hewston’s career at Bumble Hole Foods began in shop floor roles, evolving to production manager. Then, in 1999, aged 26, he took on the role of managing director.

Today, Hewston is the egg processor’s commercial director, with the company having grown substantially under his leadership. From just 35 employees and an annual turnover of £5m, the UK company now boasts a team of 80 people, reaching a £32m turnover this year.

For Hewston, great leadership is about having a clear vision and communicating this effectively so everyone can be motivated to work to the same goal.

Business Leader finalists for 2024
Our three Business Leader finalists for 2024, from left to right: Michelle Laithwaite, Marc Burbidge and Andrew Hewston

“It is about being willing to listen to other people's views and providing that forum so they can express views honestly and without rebuke,”​ he wrote in his application.

Hewston has been central in transforming the company from a small, regional egg packer to the largest processor in England, supplying major blue chip manufactures.

During the pandemic, the business donated more than £20,000 to food banks all over Worcestershire and continues to support local charities. The company also supports the community, including local SEN school, Chadsgrove, through the offer of work placements.

Bumble Hole Foods is also a member of Lion British Egg Products Association, and sits on the technical committee to improve standards in UK lion code of practice for lion egg processing.

Over the next three years, Hewston is keen to continue the business and expand into new markets. The company will also be working towards net zero status and maintaining and improving its community involvement.

Michelle Laithwaite - Fuel Hub

Prior to entering the F&B sector, Michelle Laithwaite had a long career in fashion. While nutrition and exercise has always been a tenet of her lifestyle, her busy schedule – work, kids, exercise – meant that there was little time for her to cook properly nutritious food for herself.

At the time, her husband was a professional rugby player and also had a jam-packed training schedule. Together, they identified that top-level athletes with little budget of their own, also often neglected diet and nutrition as part of their training. This is where the idea for Fuel Hub was born and in 2019, they decided to set up a business which provides high-quality and convenient meals fit for health-conscious consumers.

Without any previous career experience in the F&B sector specifically, and using only her 18-year experience in the fashion industry, during which she managed a budget of over £7m and led a global fashion wholesale agency for international womenswear brands operating throughout the UK, she has been able to launch, grow and lead Fuel Hub to a projected £2.1m turnover company in the space of just four years.

For Laithwaite, leadership is about two things: knowing how to lead a business to be successful and knowing how to engage with the people you work with, so they can perform at their very best.

“Knowing how to lead a business to be successful starts with having a clear vision for the future of your business and a solid plan of how you will get there,” ​her application read.

Key to business growth has been Fuel Hub’s recruitment strategy, with clearly defined roles mapped out ahead of time and filled at specific moments throughout the company’s journey. The business has increased its headcount ten-fold since launching in 2019 – from just three members of staff (herself, her husband and a chef) to 30 employees.

The business has worked with a range of local charities and partnerships. This summer, for example, it provided meals to the Warrington Wolves’ youth foundation summer camp, where it supplied 160 meals each week for four weeks.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything Fuel Hub does, operating on a zero-waste model, with products prepared in a facility designed to utilise every ingredient and product packaged in 100% recyclable material made from sugarcane pulp.

The winners will be announced at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards 2024, which will take place on Thursday 8 February at the London Hilton Bankside. Tickets are available to purchase, here.

The Food Manufacture Excellence Awards are proudly sponsored by our headliner Menzies, alongside event sponsors Quor, HSBC, and CAS Recruitment.

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