031 – From Farmer to Food Entrepreneur with Pete Thompson from Cotchel and Reliquum

Pete Thompson is a farmer with a huge entrepreneurial streak. His family farm in Essex (which has been operating since 1948), produces a whole range of interesting crops for Asian food service up and down the country. They also take on a number of innovation projects as well as growing a range of fruit crops in small pockets of space, dotted around the farm.

Pete is always on the lookout for new projects that increase revenue whilst reducing waste. They’ve turned surplus apples and pears into juice. They’ve created fruit gins from plums and apricots and have a number of other secret projects underway. Listen to Pete’s story and be inspired to find opportunities from everything around you.

In this episode you’ll learn

  • The difference between farming and building a brand
  • What pollinator trees are and why they produce fruit that’s surplus to requirements
  • Why retailers food waste figures get better and better while farmers and consumers appear to get worse and worse
  • How to see opportunities from everything around you
  • Why some of the old ideas are still some of the best ideas
  • The importance of storytelling – from farm to product
  • The challenges of moving from pure farming to running a portfolio of brands

Notes and Links

Thompsons Farm
Fareshare gleaning network
Cotchel brand
Cotchel definition
Reliquum brand

Episode Transcript

Guy: [00:00:01] You’re listening to Good Foodies and this is Episode 31. Today, we’re talking to Pete Thompson a farmer whose diversified his business and created a number of brands out of produce that would otherwise go to waste. So stay tuned.

Guy: [00:00:28] Hello and welcome to the show. My name is Guy Routledge from Sapling Digital and The Food Rush. I’ve got Kylie Acker’s in the studio with me again, today. Kylie welcome to the show.

Kylie: [00:00:37] Hello, hello, hello.

Guy: [00:00:39] Hello, hello, hello. Today, we’ve got a fantastic interview lined up with Pete Thompson from cultural and relinquish him. That’s how you pronounce it anyway. And we’re talking about food waste. And one of the things we have loads of in our house is well hopefully not so much food waste but we end up with lots of apples. Tell me about the Apple situation.

Kylie: [00:00:58] Yes every fruit and veg comes from our box every week which is a pretty wonky fruit and veg subscription service. I’m with them on the show before the SBF because there are so many apple orchards in the UK and the supermarkets have such strict standards almost every single week we get a load of apples in our box and generally more apples than we would consume normally.

Guy: [00:01:20] Yeah, more than we would just eat like. I mean I’m not a huge picking up fruit and just chomping through it person. I like to put it into food rather than just eat it as it is.

Kylie: [00:01:29] There’s not that many things that you can cook with apples. So we do put it into salads and bits and pieces but I was recently given a dehydrator from a friend and that has been a life saver for our apples. So we slice up the apples really finely, throw in the dehydrator let it run overnight and it comes out like know crispy Apple crisps wonderful.

Guy: [00:01:49] They’re a great snack you.

Kylie: [00:01:50] And good for you and no added sugar and blah, blah, blah, all those good things.

Guy: [00:01:54] Yeah, absolutely and apples are very much on the menu today in terms of what we spoke to Pete about. So let’s jump into that, let’s get right into the good stuff and find out how his story started.

The Interview

Pete: [00:02:08] We’ve been farming for donkey’s years, generations and generations but we’re farming in Great Hope in Essex since 1948 so it’s our 70th birthday this year along with a few other organisations. It started off as fair traditional market gardening enterprise growing umpteen crops etc. Local shops, restaurants and then, we graduated from that, so loom up to the London wholesale market so, Spitalfields, Covent Garden in their old venues, West and International borough so some fairly familiar names there and then in short, when the retailers came along in the 80s onwards, we weren’t really big enough to go direct and we were able to grow to supply the lettuce and all the other things we were growing great time and life got a little bit tricky for a while we say and then we sort of found a niche supplying the Oriental focused food service sector. So in effect, to cull crops go to Chinese restaurants all over the UK and Ireland and that sort of took us up to the Northeast and then we started finding that that business had grown and we found the veggie crops needed bigger fields for the bigger kit and so we started planting orchards in the leftover smaller fields which were more funny shape and then it’s since grown those sort of further niche crops so we started having to find other ways of dealing with some of that excess which is where we’re Cotchel and really come into it.

Guy: [00:03:37] Yeah, so in terms of what you do now on the farm is it exclusively fruit that you’re farming or are there still some of veg crops and some of those other niche things that you were talking about?

Pete: [00:03:47] No, I don’t know that most of our business is still these veg crops full-scale vegetable grow. Basically, all the crispy seaweed in the UK so we grow that for the Chinese year round and we grow some special type spring onions for them which are particularly appropriate for doing accompanying crispy duck and that’s our core business and it’s off 350-400 acres. The fruit is still relatively small more of a smallholding type scale but it is modern orchards that has apples and pears which made their way onto the retailers shelves. Along with that, then because we’re doing these niche crops and we have quite a strong focus on sustainability. We’ve ended up doing innovation work for bigger companies that tend to struggle with innovation and that’s why we’ve been sort of identifying crops that perhaps you wouldn’t normally grow in the UK and trying to prove commercially here.

Guy: [00:04:48] That’s really interesting because I would have assumed that for Asian markets they have very special varieties that would probably be more suited to growing in their native countries like in China or in Japan or whatever but you can grow them here and it’s perfect for them.

Pete: [00:05:03] I mean in terms of climate, temperate climate, it’s not entirely dissimilar to large regions of China and Japan. We have occasionally hot summers and we have occasionally cold winters, usually, wet winters relatively speaking. So we’re able to grow pretty much the same thing we were growing stuff in a protected enterprise. We pulled the plug on that which was of more exotic stuff but the field stuff, we’re able to do here without too much problem.

Guy: [00:05:30] So what is some of these innovative crops that you’ve been experimenting with?

Pete: [00:05:35] Well, on the tree fruit which is probably where our greatest focus is, we have UK’s first outdoor fig orchard and we’ve all had nice figs out of trees in a garden but it was sort of suggested to us there might be able to do it differently so we had a look and selected varieties over I think we put about five year period that we thought might work in the UK and then there they’ve gone into the ground and two out of six varieties have proved us right, four out of six have proved this wrong but I think that’s quite a good strike rate, really. We did Hardy Kiwis. We haven’t yet found the little tiny Kiwis sort of Berry size. We haven’t found the right variety for those yet. That’s been a fairly disastrous. We like a number of other growers now grow Götz and English Apricots, a second to none. You don’t get a lay for us which kills a lot of them like it did this year. Then we’ve got another crop near ground and I’m not even allowed to say what it is at the moment but it’s certainly something you wouldn’t associate of a Mediterranean environment rather than the UK environment. That’s a new project at the moment. And then under the trees in that project we’ve got various watermelons and melons growing this year which are proving really successful.

Guy: [00:06:52] Wow, that’s amazing! I mean I guess we’ve had a bizarrely hot summer this year, in 2018 and so I guess that has perhaps helped a little bit has it? With some of these more exotic varieties?

Pete: [00:07:01] Well, it might be lulling us into a false sense of security of the melons and the trees that are just gone in the ground this year. Generally speaking though, when we sort of talk about novel crops, innovative crops, we are very quick to say, “Oh it’s global warming. Well, yes and no, it’s not global warming, it’s climate change. It’s the changes in the seasons rather than the temperature necessarily. So I think, if you look at the English apple crop, the apples across all varieties are flowering probably about three weeks earlier now than they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago. And having those three weeks at the start of another week at the end of the day, it does open the door to something that you wouldn’t really expect to see in the UK. I mean we will still get years when because of our island climate we’ll get a late frost, it will finish the crop off but it is not every year. If you can get a decent crop in two years or in between, there and then it just about makes it worth it.

Guy: [00:08:01] And so you’re a farmer through and through and that’s still the core part of your business but through this innovative work and experimenting with these new varieties and finding an opportunity in these small areas to grow lots of fruit that opened all sorts of interesting possibilities but I guess one of the most interesting ones and one of the reasons that we’re chatting today is you are growing all of this fruit but you are finding that there was a huge amount of waste or surplus. Can you can you talk us through some of the reasons behind that and why there is so much food waste around?

Pete: [00:08:35] Yeah, obviously, there’s a waste issue. Whatever you do, you grow crops, you’re going to get flushes and that’s the way of the world and I suppose in the old days, at a flash, you had to do your very best to do something whether it be pickling vegetables or making jams etc. on a veg. We’d been working with the Glenny Network Fair share and people at that sometimes are hosting gleaning but then on the apples, of one of our earlier orchards was an apple orchard, which is a yellow apple crowned russet which is absolutely delicious on its own but I think every 15 trees, we have a pollinator and those pollinators they’re the Topaz or Evelina which are gorgeous apples off the tree, red apples and there’s not really a great market for them. The Topaz doors were ripe, the Evelina doesn’t. And there’s not a volume in there. Surprisingly, to worry our customers that supply the retailers, so every 50 entries you got this lovely fruit and you can’t do anything about it and you have to pick it because if you leave it on the tree, it creates a disease issue and obviously as soon as you pick it, you lose money because you’re paying someone to pick it. So we started pressing them, we bought a little presser and press that, it’s all very nice and then we thought, we should do that again and so the next year, we’ve pressed that bit of the Braeburn and the Conference we have on the farm as well, and did it sort of branded it locally.

Pete: [00:10:03] And it went really well so then,okay with first sales in our local area, we’ll have to see if we can reach further afield and that reason Cotchel was born. Cotchel is an old market trader term so it’s a term from the London market and means a little bit left behind or something left over.

Guy: [00:10:25] It has a really nice name for it.

Pete: [00:10:27] It’s a lovely name, it’s a grower. In the past, it’s been a pain in the neck because I know if I send a really good pallet of apricots up to the customer when I get the returns rather than 100 boxes, there’ll be sort of 95. And it’s because he’s taken five boxes Hymers Cottrill for the misses not because it’s been damaged or anything wrong with it. My first boss in the industry as well it always, “Yeah, every weekend I take about Cotchel Homeboy’s and it’s just a nice story because it’s always what’s left behind, it is always happening. It tasted really good. So in a market, yeah, the bar boys are not bar boys anymore but the lads always have to sort of Cotchel up for the weekend. A big game for the family and all the other traders would do the same. So yeah, it’s a nice fair. It reflects our sort of heritage in the markets and what the fruit is that goes into the bottle.

Guy: [00:11:11] Yeah, it’s brilliant and it’s really interesting because we’ve worked with a number of food waste companies over the years. People who are turning surplus food or food waste into either a branded product or they’re creating a platform for trading this stuff that would otherwise go to waste and in many cases when they talk about the fruit and veg, they talk about this was surplus to requirements or this didn’t fit the supermarkets stringent requirements for shape or size or straightness or curviness or whatever it might be but your situation is a bit different because you need the trees to be a pollinator for the other crop and so instead of just having it there and picking the stuff and doing something with it yourself, you’re turning that into an opportunity which is such an interesting part of the whole complexity of food production and surplus and waste and all that stuff that I never really thought about before.

Pete: [00:12:08] Yeah, I mean that is a particularly variety on the go. So no, food for the juice we have Topaz and Evelina, we have Braeburn, Opal and then we have a Braeburn and Pear which is where it makes out our Braeburn with Conference Pear. Now on those three then that is our respect fruit, so too big, too small, a wrong colour, funny shape etc.. It’s the only reasons. It does strike me as strange that you have to have a uniform size apple going into a tray of apples of loose apples from the supermarket. When I think if you stood and watched that consumers going past that tray over in the supermarket, I don’t think one of them would be the same size. I think you’d have a little three year old to a teenager to mother, father and some hulking great rugby player that think, Big apple is possible.

Guy: [00:13:02] Yeah, I do find it very strange that there are these requirements. I guess there’s one part of it which I can understand which is when it’s prepackaged although I guess then that raises a whole other question about why the hell are we prepackaging fruit and veg because it needs to be able to fit in the container, it needs to be fairly uniform weighed so that they can price them individually but I mean that seems like a whole a strange concept in its own right. But yeah, when it’s being sold loose and they’re just all there it almost makes it feel more natural. And I don’t know the right words to use here. But when you see a eclectic bunch of fruit or veg or something and it’s all different shapes and sizes and some are polished and some have a little scuffle on one side then it just makes it feel more like natural food rather than this polished almost false looking presentation in the supermarket.

Pete: [00:13:54] Absolutely. And there’s a disconnect with food and where it’s come from. So the more natural it is, then hopefully the more people can relate to it to being a natural product and disconnection from the natural world as a significant problem these days. I mean I understand as you did, as you described the retailer’s reasons for packaging etc. and I’m running a pack house I know the issues with automation and trying to drive down your costs because the returns are pretty low but it’s a problem we keep coming across the retailers. They want a uniform apple in the tray because they don’t want any weight so they can say, we’ve got very good ways for you because we don’t waste any apples. Well, that’s because they pushed the way backwards to the farm and they’ve pushed it forward. I would say to the consumer by packaging up to such an extent that you perhaps order by more than you need and then you waste time at home instead. So the retailers’ waste figures get better and better, consumers and growers’ figures get worse and worse.

Guy: [00:14:57] And I guess the retailers have an ulterior motive for that because they pay for the waste and so making efficiencies there actually increase their bottom line whereas perhaps they, obviously, consumers don’t necessarily pay for their waste although, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future we end up paying per black bag that gets taken away by the council each week because something is going to have to change at some point because it’s such a huge issue.

Pete: [00:15:21] I wouldn’t be surprised if the consumers did pay for it because they buy it and then they throw it away. So they’ve they’ve spent the money upfront.

Guy: [00:15:28] And so this is one aspect to how your tackling food waste and creating something of value with it as well in terms of the juices. And so you’ve got the range of four of them and we’ll put all the details in the in the show notes at www.goodfoodies.co.uk but this is one of your projects alongside the farm. You have another one as well which is another drink. Can you tell us a little bit about the Reliquem brand as well.?

Pete: [00:15:53] We’ve got apples and pears and I have to say it’s simple. It’s not as simple as relatively straightforward. You can squish an apple and get the juice and off you go. We also grow plums and apricots, stone fruits you can’t quite press them in the same way because the tree-ripen fruits go to top-end food service customers; hotels, restaurants etc. We don’t have much room for manoeuvre if that fruit then splits, so we don’t sell it quick enough. There’s nothing else we can do with it. And I thought making jam sounded a bit boring. A couple of years ago when we had a complete failure of an apricot crop actually due to frost. Well, let’s stick some gin and sugar and see what happens. Couple of months later, we had some very nice apricot gin, beautiful colour and it tastes gorgeous and I was taking bottles and went to friends and they were trying to say when can I buy some. So the idea was born.

Guy: [00:16:50] Ever the entrepreneur.

Pete: [00:16:53] Well, some of the best ideas always happen by accident.

Guy: [00:16:55] Completely agree. And it sounds amazing. I mean I’m a big gin drinker and the idea of flavoured gin is something I’ve been tasting quite a bit recently.

Pete: [00:17:04] It’s not a gin liqueur so well, where we’ve ended up, we worked with a fairly esteemed barman and cocktail maker. Mixologist is I think is the right term and we’ve launched the plum so far this year and we didn’t add any sugar cause A, our lazy plum got twice as much sugar as an apricot or a normal plum and B, is as the guy pointed out, if you’re a farm making a cocktail add sweets but sweets can’t take it away. So really plummeted 16% by volume. London dry gin blended with plums with the juice of plums. So it’s more akin to dare I say, Pimm’s

Guy: [00:17:48] Which is a gin based spirit in its own right.

Pete: [00:17:53] It’s is an alternative to Pimm’s or you can serve it with tonic etc. But it is pretty much just London dry mix with the juice of plums and it’s the name Reliquum is similar to Cotchel’s. The Latin for all that remains. So we’re continuing on that journey, the apricot. We haven’t quite got right yet. We take pride in the fact that there’s the seasonal variation as well whereas a variety of variation in the juice and the gin. Last year, there was very high pectin here which is made quite that much thicker creamy juices and we’ve got a lot of pectin in the apricot, so it just got to finish that filtration and then we’ll go to that one this year.

Guy: [00:18:37] Now pectin is something that I’ve heard of and I can’t remember where it is that I’ve come across this as an ingredient or something like that, is it something to do with, I wanna say cheese or something like that, that’s not right is it?

Pete: [00:18:48] No, it’s more vegetable than animal. If you are barely making jam generally, you need to add set. If you’re using the old cutaways, you’d use scrap out but some Crab Apple in the mix and provide natural pectin for you. But generally speaking in a normal year, you’ll need to add pectin, if you make and you want it to offset in a nice jelly like texture.

Guy: [00:19:12] And so there was a lot of this naturally occurring in the apricots which meant that you weren’t able to get it yet.

Pete: [00:19:18] Last year 2017, was a high pectin year. Quite why I would hesitate to pretend to know why but it’s natural variation, seasonal variation, I’m sure this year will be different.

Guy: [00:19:31] Interesting stuff. So the creation of this liquid, this gin, fruit gin, is it a similar process that you would use to make like a slow gin, is it like a compounding?

Pete: [00:19:42] It’s very similar without sugar. Our goal perhaps will be to actually go to make around London dry gin to have as the base for the fruit gins but it’ll take a bit longer. We’ve got juice so we’re one step away from turning that into something stronger and then it’s only a few more steps turning into gin, another home for the great two apples and we’ve been planting botanicals on the farm as part of our innovation projects anyway including the likes of tuna which you obviously need a for a gin and then we’ve got citrus trials going on as well. We’re going to launch a London dry gin in six to eight weeks. It is made with partners at the English Distillery Company who make the London dry and then we’ll add calamondin finger lime and use as botanicals from our own trials and some of our apple juice were turned into A.B which would then be used botanical to give our lovely floral sweetness to the gin as well as the sort of citrus notes from the citrus.

Guy: [00:20:49] Wow it sounds like you’re doing some really interesting stuff. And where did all these ideas come from?

Pete: [00:20:55] To me they all seem like very logical progression from one to the other. If I do mention the projects in the office, I tend to get loads of a degree of horror these days is a bit annoying to say next. And also I’m quite a daydreamer, I think which is probably a bit rubbish at school but when you try to think of the next things that it’s quite useful.

Guy: [00:21:15] But it seems like it’s very much founded in. You’re surrounded by all of this stuff, the ecosystem of the farm, you understand the technicalities of growing things and how they all work together and you see stuff. I get the impression that you see it on a slightly deeper level and you’re like, we’ve got this here and we’ve got this here. There is a connection. Let’s make that, make a biggest thing of that connection or we’ve got this waste or this surplus, we can use it in some way to create something completely new with different value.

Pete: [00:21:45] It’s a very old idea isn’t it? If we look back at what our ancestors were doing and you made something of the waste whether it’s jam or juice or hooch or whatever it was you came up with. So it’s a very basic idea. And I do think we have quite an obsession with tech 10 percent or the solutions. Yet most of the ideas that we needed are already out there. We just need to rediscover them a little bit. And I think on the other lower level I think with my belly as well. But I look at something and to think how I could drink it.

Guy: [00:22:19] I think there is always a good way to start off any thought exercise is how can I eat or drink this?

Pete: [00:22:24] I don’t know what to make or grow I think that I don’t like. I think that’s a fairly fundamental thing if you’re doing a food brand, you’ve got to love it yourself.

Guy: [00:22:34] Absolutely. I mean otherwise, what’s the point? You’re putting in a lot of time and effort and potentially having a lot of sacrifice or stress in that especially, in the early days and you want it to be worth it, you want it to be something that you care about.

Pete: [00:22:47] Absolutely. I do think it comes down again a bit, I mentioned before about the myths of old ideas. They’re very good ideas. And yet if you look at the food tech revolution I think your feed, it featured some of the tech guys on your podcast but Aquaponics is a good one. We’ve we’ve got a long running Aquaponics trial and we’ve never quite managed it to get it take off although I think perhaps we’re getting closer. It’s packaged up in an attack to offer these days and it can be done on that very high tech level and we’ve done it ourselves fairly high tech level but the general idea is yes, mixed farming, they were doing Aquaponics in China in the warring states period when we were running around in the UK chucking spears each other. So I think if you look back far enough someone really had the idea before, it was whether they’ve made it work or not.

Guy: [00:23:39] Yeah, I guess you mentioned the food tech revolution and the use of technology I think in many ways tech should be used as a as an enabler or as a scaling device for being able to make things go bigger or faster or with more data or more computing power or something like that. But technology in of itself in most cases, not in all cases is not the solution it can be a big part of making it a bigger solution.

Pete: [00:24:10] Absolutely and now that we know we employ a fairly advanced tech in the business especially on the veg side we’re fairly commercial shall I say. And without that we’d be in trouble.

Guy: [00:24:21] Very interesting. And so with all this ranging experience you have and all these innovative ideas you get to live a life on one hand as a farmer and one hand as a brand owner and on one hand as a like a mad scientist almost. And so what are the differences between your farming hat and your brand building hat?

Pete: [00:24:43] There is a difference. If we work with farming it’s a bit like an oil tanker, it takes a while to turn it around. If you’ve got a crop in the ground, that’s what you’ve got for the next six months and you can’t just say, “You’re going to produce more.” Even if your customers think you can produce more or the product. Quite often the customer will say, “Are you sure?” What do you think? I think I’ve forgotten a field. Oh Yeah, that field over the next wager. I forgot about that. Oh Yeah, we’re fine. We could buy everything you want whereas with a brand, it does give you a degree more control but you are that much closer to the consumer so you have to care for the branders as much as you do the product.

Guy: [00:25:27] But in your case I guess you are very close to both which is quite a rare situation isn’t it?

Pete: [00:25:32] It is. And it’s really enjoyable, actually. It is enjoyable being able to present the product and go to a food show or something like that and talk about the product itself. In the bottle or in our case, direct to someone that’s just tasted it for the first time. Whereas, on the farm it does go off the farm and disappear and it’s rare that I actually get to sort of stand with someone who’s tasting it and sort of get to discuss it and the whys and wherefores and hows. Whereas, I meet someone when they’re sampling the juice or buying the juice or the gin. They have a really lovely conversation about why they like care or what they don’t like about it. And Yeah, they can learn about how it’s produced as well.

Guy: [00:26:13] Yeah, I mean one of the keys to marketing a brand which is a huge part of the whole experience is being able to find interesting ways of telling the story about the product and not always just banging the same drum and saying, “Oh have you seen our product? Have you seen our product? Have you seen this latest offer and all that stuff and you have such a rich source of information because you are also the producer of the raw ingredients so I guess in a way it makes that storytelling aspect so much easier because you have all the stories.

Pete: [00:26:45] It does make it easier and we’ve looked to using distributors and things like that as well. We’re growing and both getting awards and interest from further afield. And it does make such a difference if you are speaking about it to the customer or when we go to food shows that the people understand you work on the farm, live on the farm as well. So whether it’s me or some of my colleagues we’ve all got that connection to it and in terms of supporting the brand, I think it very quickly lose them. If you go further afield that art etc. And that’s the struggle if we end up on the shelves of a retailer be that much harder. I think at the moment, we tend to sort of sit by pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels etc. And one or two independent retailers I would struggle to see how we could communicate the story quite so well if it got sort of further afield.

Guy: [00:27:43] Yeah, definitely a challenge for the future I’m sure because it is the plan to go into retail eventually or do you want to keep this a slightly smaller, more personalised and more independent way of doing things?

Pete: [00:27:55] It’s interesting. I mean with Cotchel, with Topaz and Evelina we are limited by the number of trees already. So we prep, we use all the Topaz and Evelina and we have one customer which is the Lion Hotel in London where they chose Cotchel to be there sort of their go-to juice and so they buy the whole crop basically and the bigger bottles. And so that was all tied up. Now, we haven’t made a dent yet really on the Braeburn or the Opal in terms of “Oh great, we lose money on all the great too that goes off to be packed for retail because the returns that we get back are slightly less than the cost of making and growing it. So we’ve got quite a bit of growth left in this and yet we’re either going out of juice and turning into something a bit stronger or we have to choose it and turn it into Cotchel and then find some places to sell it.

Guy: [00:28:49] So in addition to some of the things that we’ve been talking about already, what are some of the other challenges in moving from a purely farming type arrangement to doing these other things as well.

Pete: [00:29:00] It’s probably people as much as anything where we’re set up to grow crops and be there with less than 10 fairly substantial customers. Suddenly, you have to start looking at dealing with multiple customers and getting multiple deliveries and as ever logistics is an issue, you have to get your head around and go over and it becomes a very different business. I mean we’re quite lucky in terms that yes, some farmers will grow wheat or barley or things like that that are pretty hard to sell or crop to one customer twice a year or something. Whereas because of the veg trade we are selling day in day out throughout the year so we have a reasonable business behind us which where we’re lucky we can ride on the back of compared to a lot of new food brands just starting out where it’s out of the kitchen at home and trying to do the sales in the evening and the weekend.

Guy: [00:29:52] Yeah, very challenging for sure. And so alongside all of these things that you’re doing, you’re also experimenting with new opportunities as well. One that I’ve seen a very small amount of information about is something called English Oca. Can you tell us a little bit about that because I couldn’t find anything in my research.

Pete: [00:30:09] It’s a Peruvian tuber Oca, OCA it’s also known as a New Zealand yam. Some reason, the Kiwis have picked out for us and are growing a fair bit of it. It looks like a Jerusalem artichoke, knobbly tuber, hasn’t got the side effects that Jerusalem artichokes are famed for. Fortunately, it’s actually part of the sorrel family so it’s got almost a lemony taste to it and the leaves are really tasty as well just like wild Sorrel. We left it in November to December and then we’ll store and market it just after Christmas. It’s quite exciting. You can have it dice brawl salad sliced. There’s three to four colours, you can roast it, you can grill it, you can pretty much do anything you would with a potato with it but it’s a nice sort of alternative potato over indulgent Christmas because it really goes well with Coriander and Chili and other brilliant ingredients. So we came across literally a couple handfuls of tubers. Two years ago, three years ago, put them in the ground and grew them on and then the following year, we had a 20 square metre and then now, we’ve got a couple of acres in the ground now and we’re basically still growing on our own root stock grown stock but that should make about 12 acres to go the ground for next year. We trialed it with Matt Morales, a well-known Peruvian chef in London, last season in L.A. really liked it in their restaurants so we know it tastes like they would expect it to back in Peru and then this year we’ll probably be sent a bit into the restaurant trade and perhaps sample a few retailers as well.

Guy: [00:31:58] And so this isn’t so much something you’re going to turn into another one of your brands but it’s just a new ingredient or a new, a new product that you’re working with.

Pete: [00:32:06] We have branded resin. We’ve got the English Oca company which is just sort of waiting to-go really. So in food services, there’s an opportunity to brand your product without veg where the Thompson’s brand is well-known in their Chinese restaurant sector. So we’d like to get that go for Oca as well. If it makes it onto the shelves of a retailer quite a bit of a hard one to push really. They tend to drive their produce to be brand shall we say.

Guy: [00:32:36] Really interesting stuff and I think that we were talking before we started recording about this idea of the way that a branded product like a packaged good or bottled liquid something is, often comes with a logo and the story and all that kind of stuff but you rarely get an apple with a logo stamped onto it or a sticker bar code on it. But that’s almost starting to change now isn’t it?

Pete: [00:33:01] The Big Apple brand that you know. No pink lady ribbons output was WIEGO. There is a club variety. We have to pay for the privilege of growing up when we buy the trees, the airbag for the trees. And you can only market it through a designated marketing company. So you are in their hands really. But such is the investment required found in that sort of thing that it’s there to have you have captured to a degree with niche products. So a little bit easier. I would like to think their frustration is when you’re doing fresh produce and it gets branded, it normally means it’s getting packaged and it’s somewhat demoralising if you grow for apples and you see and then and our planet and wrapped up and the packaging costs more to the consumer than Apples do because we see on our returns we’ll see the headline, returned kilo and then all the deductions come off and we get to the bottom and yet be quite chuffed. We get 40 cents a kilo but if you weigh some matters from the supermarket. So you think you’ll find out that much of that comes back to us.

Guy: [00:34:11] Well, that’s just crazy isn’t it. I mean it’s a very different end of the food industry in a food spectrum than I’m used to working in and so hearing some of these things is that it’s completely eye opening and I guess you’re always going to go back to the roots of farming and produce and wanting to turn as much of that time, effort, money and resources that you’ve put into growing it into value in some way. Whether that is something that you can pick off the tree and enjoy and have a smile on your face or whether you can sell to a market or sell to an end customer. And so it must be tough when things are put into packaging and it’s all wrapped up covered in plastic and it starts to go against the grain of your true purpose I guess.

Pete: [00:34:56] Yeah, I mean there’s undoubtedly a place packaging and I mean the retailers of all, they should take credit for dragging British farming into the 21st century. Even just in my lifetime. It changed completely in terms of health and safety hygiene, food safety for the people buying the product is out there you would not want to go back where it was in the 80s. However, there’s a time and a place and when people do not have much money and people need to pay for nutritious fresh food which is undoubtedly the basis of a good diet and then having to pay a lot more because of the packaging and I think there’s something wrong.

Guy: [00:35:40] It’s a complex industry as I’m sure anybody who’s listening will be able to attest to in their way in some small way or another. So in terms of what the future holds for all of the various things you’re doing what is the plan? Any any other exciting things on the radar?

Pete: [00:35:57] No I don’t think if you’d told us 20 years ago that our core business would be growing Chinese products. The U.K. China itself would have probably laughed. If you told me ten years ago we’ll be making gin, I’d probably laugh and be quite interested. You never quite know where it’s gonna go. There’s so much uncertainty at the moment. What’s gonna happen to our business. There’s a whole number of reasons.

Guy: [00:36:27] But a whole other podcast episode I’m sure.

Pete: [00:36:29] Absolutely. Even get into it now but no. We’re a business. If you see an opportunity, you’ve got to take it and you weigh up the risk of doing it. But certainly, most businesses recognise that adding value to your product makes good sense.

Guy: [00:36:46] Absolutely. And so in addition to all of the amazing stories and insights you’ve given us today, if you were to take one piece of advice from all of your learnings over the years for our listeners what would that be?

Pete: [00:37:00] I think we have the courage of your convictions. There’s a lot of advice out there. But generally speaking, you’d have to be the one that’s done the research, the passion for it and take on-board advice. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to have the confidence of going for it.

Guy: [00:37:14] That was Pete Thompson from Cotchel, Reliquem and Thompson’s family farm. And you can find out more about them and all their brands and their passion for sustainability at www.gthompsons.co.uk. Still to come today our lessons learned and resource of the week after this.

Guy: [00:37:35] Have you ever dreamt of picking up your own products off the supermarket shelf. Well, the reality for most food start-ups is that only 15% of them find their way onto a retailer’s shelf within two years. We hate that big food brands are making millions of processed packaged products whilst ambitious innovative start-ups struggle. And that’s why we’ve produced a free video training series which will give you the blueprint to supercharging your food start-up with your own online store. You learn how to attract your ideal customers, take control of your sales and cut out the middleman so you can build the food business of your dreams.

Guy: [00:38:14] It’s called E-commerce Essentials and you can learn more and get started today at www.goodfoodies.co.uk/ecommerce

Lessons Learned

Kylie: [00:38:30] There’s some fascinating stuff there from Peter. I love the way that really they looking at all the waste in their business and the by-products. For example every 15th tree, and looking out what else they can do so that that doesn’t go to waste and that they’re not spending money picking apples and then effectively throwing them away.

Guy: [00:38:49] Yeah, I mean it’s really all about finding those things that are inefficiencies in the business or most and turning them into something of value which is I mean such a great takeaway and can be applied throughout many different aspects of the business.

Kylie: [00:39:02] That’s something that we all need to be doing in our business is looking for those inefficiencies but I think more importantly or the other side to that coin is looking for opportunities. So looking for things that you cared. Just with a small tweak to your business adds almost a second business line or product and that’s what he’s doing with those apples that come from those trees that they need to have planted in there. But they’re not part of their existing business model.

Guy: [00:39:28] And the same goes for the gin as well. I really want to get my hands on some of that. That sounds absolutely delicious.

Kylie: [00:39:34] You just say that about all gin.

Guy: [00:39:35] I said that about all food really, don’t I?

Guy: [00:39:37] Food, wine. Yeah, everything, really.

Kylie: [00:39:39] Everything, really. So yeah, I guess, two sides of the coin.

Guy: [00:39:42] It’s a nice expression that used in terms of either reducing costs and being more efficient or turning something that was otherwise going to be waste into something of value. And as we we’re listening back to the interview I made a few notes about some ideas of how you could apply that not just in the food product itself but in a few different areas. So one thing that came to mind is there’s a lot of packaging involved when you’re working with a food company, especially, if you’re doing something like e-commerce and delivering lots of things to people. If you can get that packaging sent back to you, you could then shred it up and turn into that like the internal packing material to keep the product safe.

Kylie: [00:40:20] Or like Oddbox who he mentioned earlier, is when they send us out a box, they ask that we leave the box out for them for collection for the next week. So we’re not that good at remembering to put the box out so we’ll often leave five boxes out there like once a month but that means that investment in packaging isn’t a one-off investment they’re actually able to use that packaging over and over again and they’re not the only business doing this. There’s quite a few now that are starting to say we’ll send you a free label and you just send the packaging back so that we can reuse it.

Guy: [00:40:50] Oh yeah, we had a brilliant thing recently. Nemi Tea who’ve also been on the podcast. They sent us out some samples of some new products that they’re testing and it came in like an old battered box from Amazon I think it was there was a little note inside which was which was printed. So they clearly send this out to everybody saying that apologies if our packaging looked a little bit bashed and battered but it’s because we’re committed to reusing and reducing our waste. I thought it was a really nice little message to put in the box there.

Kylie: [00:41:19] Yeah, and the number of boxes that we get sent to us different things that you buy online and then we end up having to break it all up and put it into the recycling. I would much prefer to be able to reuse it and we do reuse it when we send out competition prizes and stuff. But it would be great from a business perspective because it does bring down the expense for your packaging.

Guy: [00:41:39] Yeah, the only other one I thought of just off the top my head when we were listening back to the interview was if you use a lot of eggs in your recipe for example, if you use a lot of egg yolks but don’t use the whites well then there’s an opportunity there to turn those in to either another product like a meringue that uses only egg whites instead of egg yolks or just to sell off that byproduct of the bit that you don’t use. So just a few examples thereof ways to create more value or to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Guy: [00:42:10] Good. Let’s let’s wrap this up move onto our resource of the week

Resource of the Week

Kylie: [00:42:18] Our resource of the week, this week is something that we produced on The Food Rush a while ago to help our readers tackle food waste at home. So we have a downloadable PDF guide which is all about how to reduce food waste at home and in there, there’s some recipes for the common things that you would perhaps have lurking in the back of your fridge that you don’t really know what to do with this. So we came up with some recipes that tackle those most common foods that you don’t really know what to do when you just have one of this or one of that.

Guy: [00:42:51] Yeah, and there’s some more general info in there as well as well as some quick tips. And whilst this is primarily a business podcast, of course, everybody listening is also a consumer in their own right. And if you’re interested in these topics from a business perspective, you probably also interested in reducing food waste at home. So yeah, it’s literally called the ultimate guide to reducing food waste at home. The easiest way to find it is to head to the show notes for this episode which you’ll find a www.goodfoodies.co.uk but you can also go and check out The Food Rush at www.thefoodrush.com and there’s almost certainly a link to the guide on the home page there because it’s something that’s really popular, it’s something that we find people really passionate about and really looking to make improvements on at home.

Kylie: [00:43:37] And if you think there’s a tip, if you’ve got something that you do at home to that you think you’d like to share and we’ve missed it, please do let us know. We’re always wishing to update our guide and keep it as topical as possible.

Guy: [00:43:48] Yeah, absolutely. cool. So just a short bit of lessons learned and a short resource of the week, this week but thank you so much for joining us again. We always appreciate you spending time with us. And as I mentioned to get all the notes and links and details of everything we talked about. Just head to the show notes at www.goodfoodies.co.uk and if you’re enjoying the show we’d really appreciate it if you would share it with your friends, your colleagues your co-workers, your wider network because it’s a great way to spread the message about all the amazing work that people like Pete are doing in their various brands and businesses. So yeah, I think that’s pretty much it for this week. Thanks very much. We’ll see you next time. Cheers.