World Environment Day is an annual event celebrated globally to support environmental protection. Originating in 1972, it brings together millions of people from around the globe, and each year it focuses on a specific theme.  For 2024, the theme is ‘Our Land. Our Future. We are #GenerationRestoration.”

This fits perfectly with Vitacress’ ambition to enhance the sustainability of our farms to ensure we use our resources efficiently, whilst protecting the environment. A critical part of this is our approach to sustainable soil health.

The world’s increasing population puts pressure on agricultural production which can lead to a reduction in soil quality and adverse effects to the environment. Aside from a need to grow enough crops to feed the rising population, we need to optimise soil health to support the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and support other important ecosystems. Vitacress is using state of the art techniques to understand the functionality of its soils so we can improve the health of these ecosystems.

Research in this area supports the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations to achieve a better and sustainable future for us all.

The UN General Assembly designated 5 June as World Environment Day, marking the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of UNEP.

Vitacress Salads has undertaken an extensive tree planting project to create a new woodland habitat on its St Mary Bourne site near Andover, as part of The Woodland Trust’s MOREwoods scheme.

The project, to plant 800 native tree saplings in an unused field on Vitacress’ primary watercress and salad production site, is just part of the company’s commitment to its sustainability framework, Second Nature, to improve biodiversity and better-quality surface wasters.

Comprising 25 native species including Oak, Birch, Willow and Hawthorn, the fruits and flowers of these trees will provide food resources to support native wildlife and pollinators, while the trees themselves will provide shelter and nesting opportunities. The location of the site of this new woodland is also significant.  Adjacent to the Bourne Rivulet, a headwater of the world-famous River Test, in recent years high groundwater levels and heavy rainfall have resulted in increased flooding of this area – Vitacress hopes this new woodland will help mitigate against future flood risk.

Andrew Eastwood, managing director at Vitacress Salads says: “It was a privilege to be involved in such an important initiative whilst supporting our Second Nature environmental programme here in St Mary Bourne.  The benefits of native woods and trees are now well understood in the fight against climate change and at Vitacress Salads we are delighted to be part of the MOREwoods scheme. I’m extremely impressed by the number of colleagues who offered to help and their dedication to complete such a huge task.”

The tree planting took place over three days in mid-February 2024 with more than 40 staff from across the business volunteering to help in the sizeable project. The saplings were planted in a random format to simulate a natural woodland with a variety of larger species like Oaks and smaller shrub like species like Hawthorn.

Once the woodland becomes established, Vitacress will be installing benches so staff can visit the area for mental wellbeing and education.

To find out more about the MOREwoods scheme, visit: Plant Trees on Your Land with MOREwoods – Woodland Trust.

As a business helping families eat better with our healthy fresh produce, one principle remains – the importance of delivering quality. Whether it’s product quality, which is paramount at Vitacress, the service we offer or our work ethics, quality underpins our success.

David visiting our farm in Wiltshire

MD, Vitacress Herbs, David Walmsley comments: “We are obsessive about food quality within our business. It’s critical that our retail customers and the end consumers are delighted every time they purchase our produce.” But when it comes to one of our Group-wide values – ‘Always Deliver Quality’ – it’s about much more than the quality of the produce we sell.

David continues: “it’s about a job well done, about being proud of everything we do and about delivering for our customers consistently day in, day out. As the leader in our business, I am privileged to see this value come to life every day in the way we work together as a team and the standards we set ourselves and those we partner with. The Vitacress badge means something to us all and the passion we have across our organisation for our reputation of quality is amazing.”

Vitacress regularly demonstrates this value in its daily operations.

Always – consistency is key

Our teams work hard to turn the complex into routine. We have developed a resilient supply chain that enables us to deliver a consistently high service level to all our customers. This requires dedication from the entire supply chain – from the procurement team, our farmers and partner growers, through to our inbound quality team who makes sure the crops meet our high standards.

Deliver – working to a common goal

Colleagues working together across planning, operations, technical and logistics to deliver what the customer wants on time and in full, despite potential delays such as volatile weather or transport delays. To manage the complexity of 120 production runs every day is only possible with a core strength and rigorous processes. The teams are then able adapt when orders change and the problem solving and collaboration kick in. Typically, we deliver 99% of all orders which is very impressive for such a diverse range of produce.

Quality – a collaborative effort

None of this is possible without amazing support teams who take pride in a job well done. It may be our engineers who ensure that our machinery is in optimum condition for efficiency. Or it could be someone in the business who spots a potential hazard and takes accountability to ensure our factory continues to operate safely and smoothly.

Sarah Pitts, head of technical at Vitacress Herbs, comments: “As a business we have integrity which is important, and we have a solid foundation of caring and wanting to do a good job.”

David adds: “As a business, if we try to operate with ‘quick fixes’, we will fail. Instead, we are a quality business and that means taking pride in everything we do. It’s about every job well done and the pride in the Vitacress badge and I for one, am proud of the rigour and accountability that I see in action every day.”

Vitacress is taking important steps to prioritise its most valuable asset: its people. Investing in our colleagues ensures we do the right thing by our people whilst helping to fuel innovation, growth and long-term success for the business.

Growing is at the heart of our business

We are committed to fostering a culture of learning and development. Recognising that the skills and knowledge of our colleagues are critical to staying competitive in a fast-paced marketplace, we are investing in training and upskilling. Employees experience personal and professional growth and the satisfaction of working for a company that values them.

Matt Edghill has been working for Vitacress Herbs for over four years and following the successful completion of his apprenticeship, moved into a permanent role. “Over time, I was given more autonomy and responsibility, taking the lead on jobs to complete by myself. This progression allowed me to develop my knowledge and skills.”

Showing appreciation

We know that our success is directly linked to the motivation, dedication, and passion of our employees. Our new Employee Recognition Scheme is a powerful embodiment of that. It is designed to create a culture of appreciation, where the exceptional efforts and achievements of employees at all levels are acknowledged and celebrated.

Vitacress Portugal knows first-hand how important this is. MD, Vitacress Portugal, Carlos Vicente comments: “The teams in Portugal are really embracing our new recognition scheme. It provides everyone with the opportunity to recognise where a colleague has shown great behaviour and demonstrated our values. People are using the cards to say a special and personal thank you and the nominations for the first awards are flooding in.”

Following its launch, the team encouraged colleagues to get involved and took every opportunity to recognise their colleagues – over 50 ‘thank you’ cards were issued in the first four weeks, that’s a lot of appreciation! Sometimes, a simple thank you means a lot. Tânia Cortinhas, senior factory supervisor, says: “Although it’s new and people are still learning about it, the program started well. I noticed an immediate improvement in the culture and an increase in friendliness among colleagues. More than the monetary value, I really value the ‘thank you’ gestures.”

Empowering Career Advancement

The business promotes a growth mindset, actively encouraging employees to seek career advancement within the company. With the recent launch of our new Talent Development Programme in the UK, this approach provides development opportunities for people, encourages empowerment and ensures the business has well-qualified and motivated individuals. Nathaniel Wood, harvest supervisor at one of our farms in Wiltshire, comments: “The last six months as supervisor have been a real show of confidence from my managers who have allowed me the freedom to manage a team and take on more responsibilities.”

Vitacress embraces progression and recognition in the workplace where excellence is not just encouraged but celebrated. It highlights our commitment to our employees, believing that recognising and rewarding outstanding contributions is critical to the success of both its people and the business.

In the face of global climate change, companies are recognising the importance of taking responsibility for their environmental impact. Working towards net zero is a significant objective for Vitacress, not only to protect the land we use but to nurture the future and ensure long term sustainability. Here we explore some of the progress made across the Group.

Looking after the environment is Second Nature to us

We are working towards becoming net zero by 2040 and have put in place a framework to help us achieve this. Group Environment Manager, Leah Mathias-Collins, comments: “Aptly named, Second Nature, our net zero ambition will be achieved by focusing on emissions, water, plastics, waste, soils, peat and biodiversity. To support this critical work, we are committed to setting science-based targets and FLAG targets – that’s Forest Land Use and Agriculture.” These targets will help us to identify where and how we need to reduce our emissions in our operations and our supply chain.

A critical resource

Water is critical for companies like Vitacress and with volatile weather patterns across Europe, we must make sure we put measures in place to ensure we use it as efficiently and responsibly as possible. In 2022, actions were introduced to reduce the volume we use – in Vitacress Portugal, they successfully reduced their use by 33% when compared with the year before.

Production Director in Vitacress Portugal, Simon Hues comments: “Water is critical to grow the quality crops we deliver to our customers year-round and with changing weather, we knew we needed to address this quickly. We optimise irrigation and have improved the infrastructure to increase our water efficiency. We’ve also modified the growing processes on our farms which has significantly reduced the requirement across all of our growing sites.”

We take responsibility for the land we farm seriously

We know if we protect and nourish our soil sustainably now, it will continue to produce quality crops in the future. In the UK, we are working with NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) to set a blueprint for soil health. What this means is it will help us to understand the impact of our soil cultivation and therefore, identify where we can enhance rotations (enabling the soil to ‘rest’) and add Organic Matter – this puts natural nutrients back into the soil, encourages worms and increases microorganisms (the things that produce healthy soil). It also increases soil carbon which increases water retention meaning less irrigation.

We need to protect the natural world around us

Now in its third year, the Vitacress Farm Excellence (VFE) programme has made great strides. 100% of our farms work to enhance and conserve wildlife habitats and biodiversity. Launched in partnership with LEAF Marque certification to prove our commitment to sustainable farming, it measures environmental improvements through the delivery of tailored 10-year biodiversity management plans.

Claire Mike, technical & business development director at LEAF, says: “We are super proud to be part of Vitacress Farm Excellence. It’s an exemplary demonstration of a company making a firm commitment to the delivery of more sustainable farming, including water, energy and waste management, pollution control, crop health and protection as well as community engagement. Together with Vitacress and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, we are working together to drive forward a food and farming system that encourages nature and landscapes to thrive and helps farmers in the land, protected and aquaculture sectors adapt to the changing environmental landscape.”

We also work with Carbon Rewild and adopted their bioacoustics technology to monitor birds and bats across our farms and great news – recent results identified that over a third were on the ‘red list’ which means they’re at risk of disappearing. By identifying at risk species on our farms, we know we’re doing something right so we will continue to enhance habitats to encourage them to visit our farms. We will then continue to monitor to ensure we’re on track.

Healthy soil, responsible use of water and enhancing biodiversity are just some of the actions we have taken as a business to make us more resilient, more competitive and more prepared for a rapidly changing climate. Vitacress recognises that achieving net zero is not just a goal; it’s a path to a more sustainable and resilient future for us all.

In May 2021, our farming team in Kent introduced a new, innovative 3-metre growing bed system to grow its crops – spinach, red chard, Bulls Blood and lettuce – which has created amazing results. This growing system, versus the traditional 1.85m bed system, helps to produce a high-quality crop whilst providing benefits to the environment.

Bespoke machinery has been developed specifically for this system including cultivation, sowing and harvesting equipment. The cultivation tractor is equipped with implements that allow for seedbed preparation and sowing in one pass – this reduces both energy and labour. The harvester was designed to carry a trailer on the back lifting it away from the bed to prevent soil damage. The many benefits include a reduction in soil compaction and erosion, which in turn improves water retention, carbon storage, and nutrient cycling. This results in less land run-off, increased water efficiency in irrigation and a reduction of inputs. The 3m bed system also makes more efficient use of the land, with an increase of 22% land use.

This season the team implemented a different field layout for the irrigation and spray beds. In the picture below there are two 1.85m beds in between the 3m beds for the sole purpose of being able to sow on them – therefore maximizing land use.

Kent farm manager, Gary Owtram comments: “The 3m system is very effective which we can see from the photos. Using our bed former and precision 3m drill we have very even germination throughout the various crops. Also, we’re able to form the beds and sow at the same time (single pass) which means we are more time-efficient.”

A great example of innovation from the team at Abbey Farm in Kent.

Meet Holly Geipel, our Commercial Manager for Horticulture. She recently attended the RHS Chelsea Flower Show as part of an exhibit celebrating the RHS 200th Anniversary of Education and Training.

Showcasing some very talented people (including Holly!) who work in the Horticulture industry, it highlights an ever-growing diverse, interesting and exciting industry to be part of.

Holly comments: “It was quite surreal. I stood in front of a somewhat large photo of myself! It was part of an exhibit featuring profiles of young people working in the industry. There was such a buzz around the exhibit, and it was great to see genuine interest from the public in the careers of the individuals.”

She was photographed alongside Freddie Strickland who was the RHS Young Designer of the Year in 2021. Holly explains “Freddie is another member of the Young People in Horticulture Association (YPHA) who works hard with a similar aim in mind; to raise the profile of Horticulture as a career option for young people.”

As Holly says, there’s still a long way to go to get Horticulture on the careers radar of many young people, but the YPHA is working hard to make this happen.

At Vitacress, we want people to feel they can develop their careers with us. We want to provide a supportive environment where they can flourish. Nurturing future talent is an important part of this, whether embarking on a first job or a new career path like our apprentice, Matt Edghill.

Matt has been working for Vitacress Herbs for four years and following the successful completion of his apprenticeship, he is the first ever engineering apprentice to move into a permanent role. As a newly qualified engineer ready to kick-off his career with us.

Below, Matt tells us a little about his experiences at Vitacress.

What made you want to work at Vitacress?

There is a large variety of equipment to work on, which presents the opportunity to develop a broad knowledge of both mechanical and electrical engineering.

Vitacress is a really welcoming work environment and my team is amazing. My manager, Steve, was very enthusiastic about continuing my education past level three, following the apprenticeship, and provided me with excellent progression opportunities.

How did you hear about the apprenticeship?

I was working as a carpenter/builder but was seeking an engineering apprenticeship and was recommended to Vitacress through my training provider, PETA.

Tell us a bit about the last four years…

My first six months were spent off site at a training facility where I learned the basics of engineering – this included machining, hand fitting and mechanical & electrical maintenance.

Following that, I attended college one day a week whilst working on my Level 3 BTEC in electrical engineering. Initially, whilst at work, I spent my time shadowing the other engineers, learning their process for fault diagnosis, job planning etc. and developing my practical knowledge and skills.

How has that changed over the years? What have you learnt along the way?

Over time, I was given more autonomy and responsibility, taking the lead on jobs and tasks to complete by myself. Starting with small jobs, such as installing light fittings or repairing minor breakdowns, this developed to much larger scale projects, such as upgrading the controls and safety features on machinery, including planning, scheduling, compiling a bill of materials, etc.

This progression allowed me to develop my knowledge and skills, not only in terms of engineering but also project management.

What do you think about the working environment and the people – have they been supportive?

The people on site are brilliant; very friendly, helpful and we always have a laugh. This cultivates a welcoming and relaxed work environment. The engineering team has always gone above and beyond to support me and the other apprentices, providing us with any help we require.

How do you think it has helped you in your career?

Working on such a broad range of equipment has given me a strong foundation and understanding of both mechanical and electrical engineering across a diverse range of applications. Additionally, I am now attending college working towards my Level 4 HNC in electrical engineering and am hoping to progress onto the Level 5, which will broaden my prospects in the future.

Share a stand out moment with us…

When I built my first control panel, I realised just how far my understanding of circuits had developed. Other stand-outs are getting absolutely filthy by cleaning filters on my first day and one of the engineer’s trousers falling down in the middle of the greenhouse!

For more information on our apprenticeships, get in contact.

Vitacress Salads’ prepared salad brand, Steve’s Leaves, has redesigned its salad bag to make it fully recyclable, whilst also reducing packaging by 17%. In the brand’s 10th anniversary year, this move will result in a significant reduction of plastic packaging by removing 1.5T per year. The fresh new pack design also emphasises the unique spring water wash and biodiversity farming programme.

Head of Innovation & Marketing at Steve’s Leaves, says “We wanted to update our packaging to help consumers make quicker choices at shelf and to reassure them that we’re doing the right thing for the environment. Our brand purpose resonates with consumers more than ever, as they look for ethically grown, high quality and  great tasting products.”

Steve’s Leaves are grown on farms working hard to enhance nature. They are washed in Hampshire spring water, using net zero water in the salad washing process, and packed in pillow packs filled with fresh air, which ensures the leaves remain fresh throughout the entire supply chain journey. The reduced portion sized bags help to minimise waste.

The range includes: bursting with goodness Baby Spinach & Super Leaves, mild and colourful Sweet Beets & Little Leaves, peppery Baby Watercress & Little Leaves and sweet Pea Shoots & Baby Leaves.

For more information visit www.stevesleaves.co.uk

Vitacress Salads has been celebrating the work anniversaries of six of its UK Farming Team, totalling an impressive 170 years between them.

Having joined the business on Valentine’s Day in 1972, Andy Roberts – Watercress Planning & Quality Manager, has worked for Vitacress for a staggering 50 years with five of his colleagues also reaching between 20 and 30 years’ service each. “From day one, I felt part of the team”, says Andy. “I was told that the watercress business was going to undergo some radical changes in the coming years… a world of opportunity would be opening up. It was because of this vision that I stayed.” Throughout the years, Andy experienced many changes; from mechanisation with use of the first harvester, to learning about growing quality crops and being the first to add salad to a bag “We were taught to never forget that we were providing food for people to eat and if we wouldn’t eat it, then don’t cut it. But it was incredible, you simply didn’t buy any salads in a bag in those days – it was revolutionary.”

The team, who work at farms across Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire, was recognised for dedication to both the company and to growing quality produce, including watercress – which from its Latin name, directly translates to ‘nose-twister’ due to its peppery taste.

“We want to thank the team for their hard work and loyalty to Vitacress over the years.  They are experts in their field and have used this knowledge to enable Vitacress to grow great-tasting, healthy produce in an environment which is enhancing nature” said Kees Van-Poortvliet, Growing & Procurement Director.

The celebration was held at a local haunt in the village of St Mary Bourne where the farm managers were given personal gifts up to the value of £500 such as golf clubs, a laptop and even a snowboard!

Vitacress is proud to have committed to environmental transparency by disclosing its environmental impact through CDP, a global non-profit organisation that runs the world’s leading disclosure platform.

Disclosing data around environmental impact is now a business norm; in 2021, over 13,000 companies worth over 64% of global market capitalisation disclosed their environmental data through CDP, an increase of 37% since 2020. More than 590 investors and 200 purchasing organisations have requested environmental data from companies. By disclosing, we are prepared to handle the increasing demand for environmental transparency from customers and policymakers.

In its disclosure, Vitacress shared information on its initial carbon assessment data for scope 1 and 2.

Leah Mathias-Collins, Group Environment Manager, commented, “There is an increasing demand to provide clarity to both our customers and colleagues on what we are doing to reduce our impact on the environment. Working with CDP, it gives us a great opportunity to use the data captured as a benchmark for future progress and share the great work we’re doing.”

Sonya Bhonsle, Global Head of Value Chains at CDP, commented, “Climate change poses a present and future risk to companies and their supply chains. Only by measuring environmental risks and opportunities can companies manage them now, prepare for the future and remain competitive – especially as large mainstream investors and policymakers increasingly push for greater transparency through disclosure. By disclosing their environmental impact through CDP, Vitacress has taken an important first step. I look forward to their continued dedication to transparency and effort in securing a sustainable 1.5 degree future.”