a better way of doing business
When we supplied lettuce to the supermarkets we were paid for 55% of what I planted; about 85% grew into good lettuces but a third was wasted due to unpredictable sales, poor communication and the promotion of oversupply and competition between suppliers by supermarket buyers. If you add the wastage in the supply chain, less than half made it to a customer and when they did they were anonymous, over-packaged and up to two weeks old. Frustration with the waste and general unpleasantness of it all led to us starting the box scheme in 1993, which showed that most of this waste can be avoided, vegetables can be cheaper, and business can be more pleasant, by adopting a longer view with better communication and planning… and a little trust.
As we bring in this autumn's crops, we're already planning what will fill your boxes up to April 2013. The process begins with our assumptions about your veg preferences for each week of the year, building in a heavy bias towards local over imported produce. This is based on your feedback plus various personal prejudices, and is an area where we could certainly improve. Given that you are such a dependable lot and sales are fairly predictable, we can estimate how many little gem lettuces we will need in week 17, cherry tomatoes in week 33 etc., for 100 crops, 51 weeks of the year. Using historic data on yields and picking dates we then work back to planting dates and areas. In most cases where we don’t grow it ourselves we’ve worked with the same grower for years, and agreeing who will grow what, when and for how much is a surprisingly amicable process, completed before the seed is even ordered. To help our growers plan for the future, we often commit for up to five years; something unheard of in our industry.
The result is that almost everything (over 95%) that is sellable gets sold, and the boxes are very competitive as a result. There is a contract gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, but the basis of the relationship is trust, good communication and long-term self interest rather short term competition. It’s vital to avoid complacency and constantly strive to improve, but it’s one of my proudest achievements that these come more through respectful co-operation than by ruthless short term competition.