Tom Wright

A pioneering vegetable grower, Tom Wright, who became the first pre-pack supplier to Sainsbury's, has died aged 78.

A pioneering vegetable grower, Tom Wright, who became the first pre-pack supplier to Sainsbury's, has died aged 78.

Born at Kirstead, near Norwich, he was the eldest of seven children of a farmworker. While running the Crown at Stanhoe, he was in his early 30s, when he got the chance to hire five acres of adjoining land.

He drilled carrots and the profit from his first crop was more than £100 - a pretty decent return in 1958. Over the next six years, he increased the carrot acreage and sold the crops to a farming company, which supplied the wholesale market.

He was determined to sell pre-packed carrots, which initially were washed in a tin bath and packed in a shed adjoining his home. He gave a rare interview about his start in business for a Daily Mail feature, written by the late John Timpsonil

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It was in 1964 that he joined forces with Jack Negus to found North Creake Produce. The partners approached Sainsbury's won their first order for a van load of pre-packed carrots.

They were given the supplier code 'PP1' as 'Pre-packer number 1'. In those early days, Mr Wright often met John Sainsbury and fellow directors on vegetable matters.

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By the late 1960s, North Creake Produce had rapidly expanded and was growing 2000 acres of carrots and parsnips. It also supplied, directly or indirectly, every UK food retailer and at the peak employed more than 300 factory and field staff.

He was a pioneer in marketing and also production. Mr Wright started growing early-sown carrots under polythene to advance the season by some six weeks. Later, he extended the harvesting season by protecting the crop from frosts through winter - now standard in the industry.

He was also keen to improve quality. In 1965 North Creake Produce made a bold investment in refrigerated storage at a cost of £18,000 to preserve the freshness of washed pre-packed vegetables - enough to buy four detached houses in Norfolk at that time.

Mr Wright negotiated all land rentals with farmers and was always known as a man of his word. He did not tolerate unfair practices himself and during one period, when suppliers of parsnip seed doubled the price Tom grew his own seed, bought none from the suppliers and the following season seed price was back to the original level. In 1987 the company was sold to Hazelwood Foods and Tom retired three years later.

He was the first honorary life member of the Gallows Sports Centre, Fakenham, and helped establish the bar within the Sports Centre.

He was twice married and leaves a widow, Barbara, three sons, a daughter, two stepsons, and a stepdaughter. The funeral was held at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Fakenham.

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