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General Election 2019: Firms expanding despite Brexit fears

PUBLISHED: 18:52 02 December 2019 | UPDATED: 18:52 02 December 2019

Fountains Fresh MD Jack Hanson with Elizabeth Truss at its cold store near Wisbech  Picture: Chris Bishop

Fountains Fresh MD Jack Hanson with Elizabeth Truss at its cold store near Wisbech Picture: Chris Bishop

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Jack Hanson started selling fruit and veg on Wisbech Market when he was 12.

Rachael Huibers (left) and Liz Truss at Tamar Nurseries' new glasshouse near the A47 at West Walton  Picture: Chris BishopRachael Huibers (left) and Liz Truss at Tamar Nurseries' new glasshouse near the A47 at West Walton Picture: Chris Bishop

Now he runs a business importing salads from Spain, which turned over more than £22m last year.

Fountain Fresh started off in 2015 with two staff and no lorries. Today it employs 43, runs its own fleet of trucks and has its eyes on further expansion.

"We have re-invented this sector of the industry but we are not sitting on our laurels," said Mr Hanson. "We are evolving, we are investing."

Unlike the traditional importer, who would buy and sell without even seeing the produce, Fountain runs wholesale deliveries nationwide from its Wisbech coldstore. Mr Hanson said that enabled it to tailor deliveries to customers' requirements.

Red peppers piled up ready for delivery to customers at Fountains Fresh, near Wisbech  Picture: Chris BishopRed peppers piled up ready for delivery to customers at Fountains Fresh, near Wisbech Picture: Chris Bishop

"Before I go to sleep I check the tracker and I can text customers and say: 'Truck 10 minutes, truck 15 minutes," he said.

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Like many in an industry which brings in perishable produce from the EU Mr Hanson, MD of Wisbech-based Fountain, fears the damage border delays or trade tariffs could have on his high-volume, low-margin business.

He told trade minister Elizabeth Truss he expects to import 22,000 tonnes of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and broccoli this year.

Rachael Huibers (left) and Liz Truss at Tamar Nurseries new glasshouse near the A47 at West Walton  Picture: Chris BishopRachael Huibers (left) and Liz Truss at Tamar Nurseries new glasshouse near the A47 at West Walton Picture: Chris Bishop

One of the Conservatives' key election pledges is to 'sort Brexit. Ms Truss, who is standing for re-election in the South West Norfolk seat she has held for the party since 2009, said Britain would leave the EU on January 31 if the Tories win at the December 12 polls.

She said there would be no tariffs during the "implementation period", when trade talks would take place. She added she was confident a free trade deal would be agreed, as the UK imports three times as much produce as it exports to the EU.

Ms Truss also visited nearby Tamar Nurseries, which is relocating from School Road, West Walton, to a purpose-built 2ha greenhouse near the A47.

Rachael Huibers, Tamar's head of retail, said customers for its plants now included Sandringham and the Royal parks, the American Embassy in London along with major house builders and developers.

"It's great to see businesses investing," said Ms Truss. "But a lot of investment is being held back at the moment because of uncertainty over trade with the EU."

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