Norfolk fresh produce firm unveils expansion plans

A Norfolk-based fresh produce supplier has revealed plans to more than double its turnover and significantly increase the number of people it employs.

Country Fresh Produce, which is based at Hockering near Dereham, has set itself a target of a �25m turnover within three years, up from the �10m target figure for the current year.

The company, which supplies fresh fruit, salads and veg along with gourmet foods to the hospitality sector such as hotels, pubs and restaurants and also the education sector, is now entering a new era under the leadership of managing director James Gunns, 29.

The company has recently appointed a new management team, has established a second centre in Northamptonshire and is also looking to grow more of its own produce.

Mr Gunns, who has been involved in the family business for a decade, said: 'The market place is changing quite rapidly.

'Food is much more important, it is publicised more, people are more aware of quality ingredients and regionality of produce.

'We have extended the product range and have now extended our coverage area and recruited a top team to enable us to move on the next level of our development to meet customer demand and the changing market.'

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The company sources as much produce as it can from local farmers and growers within a local area when in season but imports tropical fruits and French cheeses and German meats from countries of origin.

It then distributes from its bases at Hockering and its more recent centre in Kettering seven days a week to ensure maximum freshness with its 22-strong fleet of temperature-controlled vehicles across the whole of East Anglia and large parts of the East Midlands and West Midlands.

Mr Gunns added: 'We source everything that we can in the UK and ensure it is of best quality; we buy local first and then British.'

The two centres gives it access to a wider range of suppliers in different different growing areas and different soils.

In recent months the company, founded by Mr Gunns' father Delbert, has strengthened its senior team.

Recent appointments include Charles Aust (operations director), Marcel Roberti (sales and marking director), Darrel Beliveau (business development manager), Ian Scales (finance director) and Steve Davies (retail sales manager).

'All have proven records and have come from successful business in their own right and have enhanced our vision to grow a very successful regional business across the Midlands and East Anglia,' said Mr Gunns.

Another acquisition several months ago was the Good Food Cellar and the company also has its own traditional bakery on site and has just won a contract to supply a supermarket with a local range.

At present it employs 65 people but eventually hopes to double staff numbers as it endeavours to meet its target of �25m a year within three years as it expands and grows to meet customer demand and take advantage of the changing market place.

Country Fresh has also embarked on growing some of its own produce including sweetcorn and chilis for its bread and and range of heirloom tomatoes to make bread with and for general sale.

The tomatoes include varieties such as Russian Yellow Plum, Black Truffle, Thai Pink egg, Jersey Devil and Pink Brandy Wine, and all are organic.

'My father is overseeing that project,' added Mr Gunns. 'He is going back to his roots and doing what he likes to do.'

In addition it is growing rainbow chard, which is not dissimilar to spinach, but also Norfolk melons and African horned cucumbers.

Country Fresh is also sponsoring the Cookery Theatre at the Royal Norfolk Show today and tomorrow.

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