"Consumers are demanding to know what the brands and their producers are doing about sustainability."
Pev Manners is Managing Director of Belvoir Fruit Farms, who manufacture a wide range of over 40 drinks and cordials at their base in Bottesford, Nottinghamshire. With over 60 acres of elderflowers, it’s a business very much based on natural ingredients and care for the environment. The range is stocked in all major supermarkets, and a large number of independent retailers, pubs, farm shops and restaurants.
One business success:
- In the last year we have seen, with the COVID lockdown from March 2020, the most incredible shift in our business. We saw all of our Easter promos cancelled last year and then our sales of Sparkling drinks collapsed as hospitality outlets closed and people stopped entertaining at home as lockdown bit. During last summer though it became clear that despite having forecast a loss for 2020, demand for our Belvoir Cordial range was increasing fast and we had to bring production operatives back from furlough and get cracking on making lots of Cordial, whose sales rose in proportion to the drop in sales of Sparkling drinks. This flexibility right across the business in the face of extraordinary change meant we actually made a profit in one of the toughest years and we consider this a huge success.
Two sector challenges:
- Learning a new way of working with working from home has been a huge challenge for our commercial and marketing teams. We’d never used Teams or Zoom before March of last year and the learning curve was steep. One of our biggest challenges now is re-setting the ways of working; setting new expectations for how often and when people will be expected in the office and how we conduct meetings and internal communications.
- Another challenge we are facing is cost inflation across a range of costs including labour, transport, packaging, raw materials and ingredients’ costs. Transport costs in some cases have been increased twice this year already by some suppliers and another has given us a blank 14% price increase. Other cost increases have been similar.
Three sector forecasts:
- Sustainability Scores: Consumers are demanding to know what the brands and their producers are doing about sustainability. It will become normal to display a sustainability ‘score’ on each pack which will be externally audited. We have started this already: Belvoir Farm drinks are zero waste to landfill and have very high re-use and recycle rates for all our waste. We have just had all our waste streams externally audited by Certified Sustainable and we have got a Gold rating from them which we are very proud of. By the end of September, we should be using 25% self-generated electricity as our new PV roof goes on finally, after 5 years of trying to get permission!
- Price Inflation: As costs increase across the board, led by labour costs and logistics costs, it is inevitable that these cost increases will be passed onto the consumer in the form of inflation. Already expectations are rising from suppliers. The challenge is that so far customers are not expecting these increases. Consumer price inflation will hit 5% by August next year.
- In the drive to lessen the obesity problem in the UK, sugar will continue to be demonised, despite being natural and when consumed in small quantities a good source of energy, unlike artificial sweeteners. I forecast that the sugar tax that the National Food Strategy suggested will come in, despite Boris saying he is against it, but at a lower level. There will be no extra tax on Pizza, crisps, processed cheese or fats!