A Norwich-based business is looking to establish a distribution and agent network across Europe as it targets further expansion into the fresh fruit and vegetable market.

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Helping hand from Europe

A Norfolk firm is on the verge of hiring a new Spanish agent after becoming the first company in the county to take part in a business ERASMUS scheme.

Marketing agency The Lively Crew, which also runs Fresh Pod, has invited Rocio Jimenez to join them for a three-month placement as part of the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme.

The scheme, set up by the European Commission Enterprise and Industry DG and managed by NWES, gives aspiring businesspeople the chance to learn from seasoned entrepreneurs on how to run small firms in other European Union countries.

As part of the agreement, Ms Jimenez has been working on the development of Fresh Pod’s European presence – and has already translated the firm’s marketing information into Spanish and developed potential trade links with her home country.

She said: “I am very happy to be here because this experience could help me to set up my own business in Spain. I think British companies work very well, and it is important for me to learn the business language in this country.”

Valerie Watson-Brown, director of Fresh Pod, said: “She has been here two weeks and she has already translated our marketing material into Spanish. I am talking her through how to set up a business, while showing her how Fresh Pod works. If it continues to work then we would like her to be an agent for our business in Spain.”

Richard Salmon, Low Carbon Business Adviser at NWES, said: “For businesses which are looking to expand into another EU country, they will be able to work with an individual who will give them insight into the culture of a country – and could even help facilitate meetings.

“But a business owner does not have to be looking to expand into other countries to benefit. They have the opportunity to fill skills gaps in their business or set up special projects that otherwise they may not have afforded.”

Fresh Pod, which manufactures filtration devices to prolong the life of flowers, vegetables and fruit, has travelled to Berlin this week to begin boosting its brand at Fruit Logistica – the world’s biggest fruit and vegetable trade fair.

It comes after Valerie Watson-Brown, director, bought out the company last year and invested £50,000 in developing large store filtration machines for the commercial market, which are now manufactured at ComTek in Thetford.

Ms Watson-Brown said the firm was on course to doubling its £60,000 turnover this year as they establish each European distributor.

She said: “I met with the UKTI and realised that we had to do more business in the EU because of the sector we are in.

“Because of the climate in the UK, a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables are imported, and so we decided that the UK could not be our only market – we realised we were cornering ourselves a bit.”

She added: “The language barrier is the biggest challenge, and we have already had our marketing materials translated into Dutch, but we haven’t fully-established which EU market we want to target specifically yet because they are all growing something.”

Fresh Pod products aim to keep flowers, fruit and vegetables fresher for weeks longer by filtering the ethylene from the air that causes them to rot.

Currently, the firm based on Yarmouth Road is targeting both the consumer and commercial market, with Fresh Pod capsules produced for family fridges, cold store filtration machines for farm warehouses and EC-Filters for shipping containers.

So far, the company, which was founded in America and employs seven staff, but moved to the UK, has sold 22 cold-store filtration machines since launching the UK manufacturing process three months ago, with a target to sell 50 by the end of this year.

But as well as building a viable business, Ms Watson-Brown is keen for the products to serve an environmental purpose.

“With 50pc of the food in the world wasted, the use of ethylene control products to reduce wastage is a key element in the fresh fruit, vegetable and flora chain,” she said.

“The need to reduce waste from grower through to end user – the consumer – is heightened by the need to control costs in an uncertain economic environment.”

The Fresh Pod technology has been established in America for the past 20 years with the US Navy using the devices to prolong the storage of food.

Meanwhile, farmers across the East have also been purchasing the devices to help boost the shelf-life of their products.

Cabbage and cauliflower-supplier Lankfer, based near Wisbech, said the Fresh Pod had helped give them more control over the supply chain.

Lee Parker, Lankfer commercial director, said: “We have known for a while that ethylene is a major contributor to the shortening of storage periods with our savoy cabbages.

“We have tried several methods to slow the process with little success to date. We have tested out Fresh Pod in one of our store rooms with superb results.

“We have been able to supply our customers with an English cabbage for an extended period of eight weeks, giving us more control over the supply chain, part of which is to be able to remove the need to rely on a foreign source.”

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