A fruitful existence
One of the leading UK based tropical fruit suppliers and packers, Ripe Now pursues the not inconsiderable goal of ensuring the products it supplies are fresh and in season all year round
Over the last two decades the UK has become increasingly reliant on imports of fruit and vegetables, with growth driven, in part, by large increases in the importing of non-native foods such as mangos, pineapples, melons and avocados. Although imports from EU countries such as Spain continue to dominate the marketplace, consumer trends have opened up considerable opportunities for growers and suppliers in regions including South America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Two men who have witnessed these trends taking effect during their respective careers in the fresh produce industry are Julian Wright and Lewey Hook, owners and directors of Ripe Now. During their time working together, the pair met Neil Gott, now Operations Director of Ripe Now, and the three would join forces in forming the aforementioned company in 2006. “The opportunity to create Ripe Now came about on the back of a change in the market where the demand for prepared fruit, as opposed to whole fruit, increased with the product becoming more of an enticing prospect for our customers,” Julian begins.
Beginning life humbly, with its first pallets packed by Julian, Lewey and Neil themselves, Ripe Now is today home to more than 90 full time employees and up to 40 seasonal employees. The company’s focus is the importing of tropical fruit, with as many as 665 containers of mango, kiwi, pomegranate seeds and coconut chunks from 14 different countries brought into the UK in a single year. From this massive volume of goods, circa 13,000 pallets of high quality product were subsequently dispatched.
Ripe Now currently operates from two sites, one in Coates, near Peterborough, where it carries out the handling, packing and labelling of its mango and kiwi products, and the other in Kirton, near Boston, which is focused on providing the highest quality of third party packing and storage services. Across both sites the company has cool storage space to accommodate over 400 pallets, as well as multiple conditioning rooms for mango, kiwi and other climacteric fruits.
By forging close relationships with growers around the world, Julian and his team have managed to create a seamless supply calendar of smooth fleshed mango arrivals 52 weeks of the year. “In the case of mango, it is far from being a manufactured product, in that it comes in all manner of varieties, shapes and sizes,” Julian explains. “Mango is also not like an apple or pear, in that it has a shorter shelf life. This means that the fruit needs to be picked and shipped in a relatively immature state, before being ripened and sold on, and therefore it is imperative that we maintain a continuous focus on maintaining the consistency of the product.
“Fortunately, we have a high level of experience and knowledge within the business, which means that we intrinsically know not only which countries grow mango, but which growers grow the right varieties that our customers demand, at the right time of year. We have just seen the end of the supply season in West Africa, specifically the Ivory Coast and Mali, and the beginning of the Caribbean season in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Following this we will run into Israel, then into Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, before returning back to Africa. This gives us a continual, seamless supply and our task turns to ensuring consistency of quality, which we do through a package of measures, including guaranteeing that all of our growers meet the appropriate technical, health and safety, and food hygiene criteria, and ensuring the traceability of all of our produce.”
In the last ten years plus, Ripe Now has also invested considerable capital into the regions and communities in which its growers operate, ensuring that regular seasonal work is available for local families to earn additional income. Supporting these communities through investments in local facilities, schools and infrastructure is treated as an important responsibility of the company 36as it looks to give back to those that have helped help their collective success.
This year the company was included in the London Stock Exchange Group’s list of 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain. Such recognition is a positive reflection on the hard work and financial growth achieved by Ripe Now in the last few years and it is hoped that such growth continues as we move into the latter months of 2017 and into 2018.
“Looking at market conditions in the short term we are optimistic that the immediate future will be positive, not only for us but our growers and customers also,” Julian concludes. “While we have never been ones to forecast our future too far in advance, we do have a strong business plan in place which, when followed, will ensure that we keep doing what we do to the highest possible standards. We know there are things we can always improve upon, which we will strive to do, but what will be key for us is control and continuous focus.”