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.

Congratulations to Ellie Errett, Agronomist at Vitacress Herbs, for achieving her BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection. Ellie was awarded her certificate following months of hard work. Below she talks about what it means to her in a professional and personal context.

So, tell us a bit about your qualification…

I did the BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection – Commercial Horticulture. It’s a 6-month course which includes a combination of classroom-based learning, a practical project and visits to growers. It’s a lengthy course and crams in a lot of information but luckily our exam was just in time for Christmas!

Who is BASIS?

BASIS is an organisation which supports professional development across land management and food production. It provides this support through training courses, professional registers and auditing schemes. However, once you’ve passed your exams, there’s no resting on your laurels! Once you have completed the course you have to continue to collect CPD (Continued Professional Development) points every year to maintain membership and ensure your knowledge and skills are kept up to date.

What makes this qualification valuable?

The qualification is renowned across the fresh produce industry and has a reputation for high standards. Many people from growers, to fertiliser and pesticide suppliers, to R&D managers, to biological control suppliers have completed the course.

This is just the beginning of my skills journey in food production – my BASIS membership provides me with a career of learning the most up to date knowledge in the sector. The course brings new skills and knowledge into the business whilst enabling me to do our jobs better. Whilst aspects of Vitacress production honour the traditions of our industry, we also strive to remain innovative and forward thinking.

The course was on integrated pest management, which is a key topic for our industry – we need to protect our crops from pests and diseases, but we want to do so in an environmentally friendly way. Vitacress cares about its produce, the environment, and its customers. Training employees with courses like this helps Vitacress to ensure that we grow the best possible crops, in the most environmentally conscious way. This means our customers are buying nutritious, affordable fresh food whilst not having to worry about their personal impact on the environment.

Is it rare for fresh produce companies to have specialists with this qualification?

Many assured food standards agencies like Red Tractor, who work closely with supermarkets, require anyone providing advice on the use of professional plant protection products to be BASIS qualified. It’s not mandatory for fresh produce companies to employ people with this qualification, but Vitacress values professional development and knows how important it is for us to continue to develop our skills.

What areas did you study (in simple terms please)?

I studied integrated pest management which is the prevention, detection and control of pests and diseases in an environmentally conscious way. Rather than relying on chemical pesticides, the course taught cultural controls, natural predators of pests, and bio stimulants which strengthen the plants and make them more resilient to attack. I also learnt about the laws and legislation surrounding the use, application, storage, and approval process for plant protection products.

Is Vitacress good at supporting L&D and additional training?

Yes, Vitacress has a history of investing in training and development of its employees through courses like BASIS. Most of the agronomy teams in Vitacress Salads and Herbs are either BASIS trained or have a similar qualification.

How will it support your development?

The course has taught me a lot about integrated pest management which is now helping direct my research and development to help our growers. It will help me in my future career as it’s a qualification that is highly desired in the industry. I never thought I’d see the day I can put letters after my name! Who wouldn’t be proud of that?!

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.

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