Q & A: Excellence rewarded at Elveden
QMany congratulations. You must be thrilled at receiving this award – what does this recognition mean to you and your company?
AWe were delighted to receive this award. It is testament to the hard work that the whole team puts in and recognises our commitment to growing and creating high quality sustainable food combined with superior service.
Q Please explain the structure of your business.
A Elveden is a multi-faceted rural business enterprise, which has evolved from a traditional country estate based around shooting pursuits to become an internationally renowned arable farm and food development business.
Q How long has the farm been in existence and how has it evolved recently.
A Farming at Elveden has occurred since the early 1900s when the second Earl of Iveagh, a keen and highly innovative farmer, established the agricultural reputation of Elveden as a prime milk and livestock producer. During the 1980s they sold the dairy cows because of the falling profitability of milk and moved further into arable crops.
In 2006, Elveden opened the Courtyard shops and café restaurant, which allowed meat and vegetables from the farm to be made available to the general public to eat and purchase.
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In 2010 the farm diversified from traditional field-scale arable crops by introducing a market garden enterprise, growing small volumes of niche crops, focusing on unusual tastes, colours and shapes of vegetable based around seasonal supply.
In 2011 we started The Big Onion Food Festival; a showcase of East Anglian food and drink, with other local producers, tours of the Elveden Farm, chef demonstrations and live music. Now in its fourth year, The Big Onion 2014 has grown to three days, with a trade day on Friday, September 5, followed by two family days on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th September.
Q The judges were looking for evidence of innovation and enterprise management. How were you able to demonstrate those qualities? Could you give us some examples?
A Elveden never stands still. As a business we are always looking at new ways to grow efficiently and improve our offering. The market garden is an example of this in action. We knew from talking to local chefs that demand for high quality niche vegetables was high and that sourcing UK grown crops of a high standard was a challenge, so we took the opportunity to trial new varieties in our soils for their use.
Supporting this move was the opportunity to use these crops for innovative new product development. This has led to such innovations as “Sweet and Spicy Pickled Rainbow Carrots”.
Q You recently acquired Tastes of Anglia. What was the thinking behind that decision and is it proving to be a good move forward for both businesses and if so why?
A Elveden has been running a successful local food distribution service known as Elveden Food Hub, for a number of years, working with local food and drink producers from Stokes Sauces and Aspall Cider to Rymer Farm Eggs and Wicks Manor Pork, supplying their products into Asda, Waitrose and Center Parcs.
Acquiring Tastes of Anglia has enabled us to deliver a much more efficient and cost effective sales and distribution solution across East Anglia, while allowing the Tastes of Anglia food group to focus on promoting the region’s excellent food offering throughout the UK.
For retailers in the region, it has opened up a wealth of opportunities to understand the full range of local food on offer and simplifies supply, while for local food producers they have access to an improved distribution network and a wider range of retailers from just one hub.
Q The award also sought to recognise businesses that engage with their local community and demonstrate an awareness of social responsibilities. Why is being part of the community important for you?
A Elveden’s values are steeped in the history of a traditional country estate with family and community at the heart. The estate encompasses three villages; Elveden Icklingham and Eriswell and many of our workers live on the estate.
The Elveden Estate prides itself on the high quality accommodation that it provides to its workers, and recognises the importance of ensuring that members of staff are able to enjoy their personal time.
We operate a programme of apprenticeship throughout the business to encourage young people into trades and rural roles. This includes bricklayers, electricians, gamekeepers, chefs and farmers.
The wider local community supports many of our enterprises, particularly the Elveden Courtyard and Elveden Inn, but also our frequent events.
We actively support the transfer of knowledge about food production to the local and broader community through being a LEAF Demonstration Farm and hosting numerous school and interest group visits.
Q What investment have you made in the business recently?
A Elveden is continually investing in knowledge transfer and up-skilling our workforce. We have also recently invested in a new tractor fleet, which will bring further fuel efficiency and operator comfort benefits.
Recent capital investments include a new grading and handling system for our onion crop (Elveden grows 6% of the UK total crop) adding further to our innovative onion storage.
Q Looking forward, what plans do you have for the further development of the farm in the next five years?
A Future plans revolve around investment in renewable energy technology, primarily looking at solar. We are an active participant in scientific research looking at further water use efficiencies and will continue to invest in new and advanced machinery.
Q On a personal note, what is the most rewarding part of your role and what causes the most frustration?
A I think the biggest reward is seeing months of planning and hard work put in by the whole team come to fruition on harvest day. The joy of working with a happy, highly motivated team and being able to give opportunities to young and new entrants to the industry continues to be very rewarding.
In an industry that plans everything to a finite degree, we continually find the biggest frustrating influence on our performance is the unpredictable weather. Combine this with sometimes overzealous legislation can make a difficult job even harder.
Q How did the process of entering the awards help you take stock of your business and would you recommend others to enter next year?
A It makes you re-evaluate and realise the assets that already exist within your business. Winning the award was great recognition for a hard working team and I would recommend others to enter to hopefully receive the positive benefits we have seen since we won.