Best of the bunch
With the import, ripening and distribution of fruit, SH Pratt & Co Ltd represents one of Europe’s leading providers of fresh produce
The roots of SH Pratt & Co (Pratt’s) date back to 1947, when its founder Robert ‘Bob’ Wells carved out a modest banana import and ripening enterprise from his family’s existing fruit and vegetable wholesale business at a premises in Kings Langley. The import business began solely with bananas, which remain Pratt’s primary produce although the company today also imports and ripens pineapples. As the company continued to expand, Pratt’s eventually outgrew its Kings Langley base and moved to larger premises in Hemel Hempstead during 1967. This expanded its banana ripening capacity by 40 tonnes per week. Pratt’s is today guided by Bob Well’s son Robert Wells, who joined the company in 1982 and would go on to become managing director. Under Robert’s leadership the business continued to expand and again relocated to a new location to accommodate its growing needs during 1997. The company’s new location was a 50,000 sq. ft. bespoke premises, built in Luton, Bedfordshire and remains its current base today. Within eight years of its completion the site was further expanded by an additional 80,000 sq. ft. and now totalling 145,000 sq ft. – making it the largest site in the UK for banana ripening.
Today Pratt’s operates at one of Europe’s largest players in the areas of fruit import, ripening and fruit distribution with more than 200 employees and a ripening capacity of around 3900 pallets. With 117 separate ripening rooms the company is able to ensure that fruit is ripened to the level that its customers require and with its own fleet of vehicles, Pratt’s is well placed to deliver produce to clients all over the UK.
On average Pratt’s ripens 21.6 million bananas a week, which if placed end to end would be enough to circle the M25 motorway 25 times! Sourced from countries including Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador the fruit is available throughout the year and in varieties ranging from conventionally grown to organic and Fairtrade. Pratt’s fruit is handpicked from around the world for its exceptional quality and as an expert fruit importer and ripener, it works with trusted growers and checks the fruit at every stage to ensure that its clients receive fruit of the highest class. “All fruit arrives at our premises in a ‘green’ condition and is ripened in our state-of-the-art ripening facilities whilst being monitored by our experienced fruit ripeners. The ripening process takes approximately six days at varying temperatures with air containing ethylene gas (400 ppm),” explains Commercial Director Simon Trewin. “Once our fruit ripeners have finished their work, the fruit is packaged according to each client’s requirements and branding before being delivered directly to their regional distribution centres.”
The typical banana sold in the UK is of the Cavendish variety, as are Pratt’s bananas. Presently around 22 per cent of all bananas in the UK are from SH Pratt, which supplies some of the country’s leading retail including the Tesco, Costco, One Stop and Reynolds.
As well importing, ripening and distributing bananas, Pratt’s also imports and distributes pineapples throughout the UK. Pratt’s pineapples are harvested at a stage when they are fully ripened and once they have been picked, the pineapples are checked to determine their use. To achieve this, Pratt’s pineapples are transported to a packing facility where they are sorted according to colour, size and internal and external quality. Once divided into these groups, they are then allocated to one of three main market types, processing, local market and export. Pineapples that are destined for the UK market are then prepared by being washed and treated with wax and post-harvest fungicide to protect them from containments, before being packed according to size and weight and refrigerated at 8oC to be shipped to the UK. One arrival the fruit is sorted and inspected before being approved for dispatch.
In addition to the banana ripening business, Pratt’s is also developing its transport division. There are plans to double the fleet of 28 articulated trucks currently, with recent investment in the latest twin-evaporated (dual temperature) trailers. This allows for a wide range of products to be delivered UK wide.
At the core of Pratt’s business is its promise of both quality and service. In order to assure quality the company maintains close relationships with its growers through constant communication and regular visits. This allows Pratt’s to understand the needs and workings of its growers, while providing the finest produce. In terms of service, Pratt’s grants its clients the same close attention by treating its customers individually and providing ongoing support and assistance through it customer support team. Over the past five years the company has invested over £2 million into the business to ensure that its high levels of service are maintained.
“The general UK market place is challenging for anyone who supplies food products, particularly fruit and veg. With absolute focus on low prices and delivering value, margins can be tight. However, we have managed to fair reasonably well through the recession by focusing on efficiency and productivity,” Simon concludes. “With a drive for quality, reduced wastage and lean process, Pratt’s Bananas is unique in the realms of banana supply to the main UK retailers, in that; in the face of multi-national competitors, it has managed to deliver scale and still remain truly independent and family run.”