Fruits of one’s labour

Purveyors of naturally delicious cordials, pressés and fruit crushes, Belvoir Fruit Farms has been making its fine products the same way since 1984, and continues to break new ground with innovative new concoctions

Nestled deep within the English countryside – in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire, to be precise – Belvoir Fruit Farms (BFF) has been making some of the finest fruit cordials and presses since it was first founded as a drinks business in 1984. Renowned for its elderflower drinks – BFF’s Elderflower Cordial remains its flagship product – to this day the company uses the same recipe developed by its co-founder, Mary Manners, pressing fresh fruit and infusing flowers to mix with spring water.

In the years since, BFF has expanded its beverage range to include a wide collection of flavours, producing more than 40 products which have won countless awards. The first was a Great Taste Award in 2001 for its Elderflower Cordial, with success continuing in the subsequent years up to, and including, 2018, when the same product won ‘Best Beverage at the Sainsbury’s Magazine Awards, and BFF was also presented with a Grocer ‘New Product’ Award and a Food & Drink Expo ‘Great New Idea’ Award for its Botanical Juniper & Tonic.

“BFF has, since day one, always been about quality and service, and those things have very much been the key to our success,” begins Production Director, Frank Fitzgibbons. “Today, New Product Development (NPD) is the lifeblood of the business, as we have found it vital that we not simply remain competitive, but work to be at the leading edge of industry trends. The biggest KPI and objective for both our NPD and Procurement teams is the sourcing of the best quality ingredients and packaging, with the appropriate time given to said teams to bring in these ingredients from all corners of the globe.

“As recently as March 2019, we made the leap into the mixers market, launching four new products, predominantly for the impulse trade and market sectors. We successfully introduced our ‘light’ range in 2016, and these lines have proved extremely popular. Our NPD team is constantly looking at new flavours using only natural ingredients, and we pride ourselves at being adept at launching products, with some ideas going from conception to production in less than six months!”

Capacity improvements
Since its inception, BFF has experienced significant growth, both in terms of revenue and volumes, and today it boasts a turnover of some £22.5 million per annum, with unit volume output reaching levels of approximately 27 million bottles and 13.5 million litres. From its purpose-built, 28,000 square foot facility – which it moved into in 2015 – BFF operates a two-shift system and has two fully automated bottling lines, packing both still (cordial) and ready-to-drink (carbonated) products.

“We are constantly investing in the business, be that in the form of equipment, marketing or human resources,” Frank continues. “In addition to having the space for an expansion to a third bottling line, we have recently invested in a brand new 60 valve mono-bloc filling machine with both ROPP and Crown cap capability. We have also added a new carbonator mixer (pre-mix unit), and upgraded our palletising and pallet wrapping equipment this year. In addition to ensuring and improving product quality, all of the aforementioned equipment has made – and will continue to make – a significant contribution, resulting in our throughputs increasing by approximately 40 per cent. This in turn creates a significant improvement in our capacity.”

Innovative ideas
Another area of the business to have experienced strong progress in recent years has been BFF’s export activities. “While we have always had a focus in one form or another on export markets, this side of BFF has grown considerably over the last three years or so,” Frank states. “Today, we have distribution channels in Europe, Scandinavia, North America, Australia and Japan, with exports now accounting for an estimated 20 per cent of our total business.”

With all of the above reference growth, the company has understandably had to focus on the recruitment and development of its people. “It is vital that we have the right staff in the right place, at the right time,” Frank proclaims. “This requires considerable time resource with regards to training. As such, we have several training initiatives constantly on the go. Our people are, of course, extremely important to us, and we want to support their individual growth as they continue to help to generate BFF’s success.”

Obtaining, and just as importantly retaining, a position as a leader in one’s market requires a business to be aware of, and respond to, industry trends. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that BFF continues to move with the times, most recently by reacting to the drive towards reduced sugar and no-added sugar products. As Frank goes on to conclude: “We at BFF are constantly looking for new opportunities in the marketplace, whether they are innovative ideas that are introduced by ourselves, or simply making improvements to our existing products. What never changes however is our commitment to quality!”