Going back to their roots

Established supplier of parsnips and turnips, Roy & Rod Bartlett has also turned its attention to carrots – investing in specialist machinery, more acreage and a new pack house

The addition of carrots to the R & RW Bartlett product list in 2011 came about through customer demand and was facilitated by new partnerships.

“We entered a farming partnership with one of our neighbours, whose land had never grown carrots before, so we had access to virgin land,” explains Partner and Director Rod Bartlett. “It’s a natural progression and bolts on to our existing business very cleanly. Once we started growing carrots, it opened up a whole new customer base but also complemented our existing customer base, as we had more than just parsnips and turnips to offer.”

Having started with 10 hectares of carrots, the business – which is based just south of Lichfield, Staffordshire – increased its acreage year on year and today grows 180 hectares of carrots for an ever-expanding customer base. Clients range from supermarkets and food service customers to the wholesale trade and food manufacturers, including some large contracts with prominent vegetable crisp manufacturers.

Major investment

The new crop might have begun as a small endeavour but its success has led to significant investment back into the company. At first, the business was able to utilise existing machinery, but as the carrot acreage expanded, it became necessary to invest in separate harvesting equipment.

“We’ve had to start making specific investments for each crop, so we now have a bespoke harvesting team for carrots and also for parsnips,” says Roy Bartlett. “We run a Dewulf self-propelled harvester and two JCB Fastracs hauling 20 tonne trailers to the pack house; that equipment is bespoke to carrots.”

In 2014, R & RW Bartlett opened a new cold store dispatch fridge with docking bays, to ensure the integrity of both culture and distribution.

The next investment programme focuses on the pack house, which is set fora £750,000 extension, with new camera graders, polishers and new equipment bespoke for carrots. Previously everything was run on the same machinery but the pack house has been extended to facilitate the preparation of carrots.

“Parsnips and carrots require different washing techniques,” Rod Bartlett explains. “Carrots are more robust and require stiffer brushes on the polishers; parsnips are softer skinned and they prefer a softer brush. The camera grader works for carrots but not parsnips, even top-class ones, because of the uneven surface of the vegetable.”

A market move

The other big news this year is the planned move of Birmingham Wholesale Market from the town centre to a brownfield site just outside the centre. This will take place in March – and R & RW Bartlett’s wholesale business will be moving with it. This will be the
4th Wholesale Market in Birmingham that Roy Bartlett has been involved in.

“We’re making a £200,000 investment into the new market, putting in cold store facilities and warehousing. It’s a separate business to our growing and packing business, but it has always worked in conjunction with the rest of the company and it’s very much part of our business.”

A family with a long heritage

The Bartlett family has been farming in Staffordshire for six generations and Roy’s grandmother was the first in the family to take vegetables to Birmingham market. As a fifth-generation farmer, Rod was proud to welcome his daughter Laura into the business.

The business is also supported by between 80 and 120 staff, including agency staff, depending on the time of year, with demand for help particularly high over the Christmas period.

In addition to the land afforded by the 600-acre family farm, the business has entered partnerships with its neighbours to allow it to grow a total of 1,000 acres of cereals and 1,000 acres of roots.

Looking further afield – and ahead

The team regularly attend international shows and the company already exports to a number of customers in Europe, including for the expat market in France and Spain. More recently, the company has been sending parsnips to Canada. “There is a calling for them, a specific window, so we made contact with a buyer in Canada and this is the fourth year we’ve sent parsnips out there.”

As for the future, the investment in the pack house and the new wholesale market in Birmingham mark the start of a five-year plan.

“What we’ve already done is a massive achievement, but we have to make ourselves more cost effective and put in more efficient machinery to make sure our costs are as low as possible,” says Rod Bartlett. “You’ve got to be cost effective to compete. It’s a big investment, but if you’re not constantly innovative in your production, you’ll fall behind. This way, we can give our customers the price and service they need.”

Tel: 01543 481215