Barfoots grows new business in Europe

Barfoots of Botley find European export success

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), vegetable grower and distributor Barfoots of Botley has found new customers in France and the Netherlands, bringing in£1.5 million in revenue. The company will increase this by a further £5 million in 2016, with exports to France growing by 300%. It has 200 full time members of staff in the UK and employs up to 800 temporary workers during the harvest season.

When Peter Barfoot started a small strawberry farm in West Sussex in 1976, he never expected it to grow into an international farming operation. It was not until 1989 that Peter decided to expand the farm and introduce new vegetables to his fields, including courgette and sweetcorn. The business, now called Barfoots of Botley, quickly grew and was soon supplying, packing and distributing produce for the UK’s major supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco, Asda and Marks & Spencer.

The demand for produce all year round, instead of only seasonally, led the company to begin importing vegetables from an array of countries around the world including Spain, where it opened an office in 2000. In 2006, Barfoots developed a farming partnership in Senegal, West Africa, where it now grows sweetcorn, legumes, sweet potatoes and spicy chilli peppers for the UK market. It also has an operation in Peru where it has become the largest exporters of asparagus to the UK.The company has 200 full time members of staff in the UK, and can take on up to 800 temporary workers during the harvest season. It has a total turnover of £113 million.

“We are farmers at heart and place a strong emphasis on quality,” says Juan-Carlos Leon, Sourcing and Business Development Director at Barfoots. “We follow a holistic approach towards the business and aim to balance the demand for fresh produce with sustainable farming methods.

For example, our UK farm is carbon neutral thanks to a bio-digester, which creates energy from produce that is not fit for sale.”

Looking abroad to grow as a business

In 2014, Barfoots decided to look into exporting its produce to Europe. The company knew that it would be able to fill further demand and suspected that some of its most popular products, such as sweet potatoes, sweetcorn and chilli peppers, would be welcome in markets where they were not yet fully available. Having little experience with exporting, Juan-Carlos contacted UKTI for advice and guidance on where to begin. An International Trade Adviser (ITA) visited the company’s farm in West Sussex and put together an export plan.

Barfoots utilised UKTI’s Export Marketing Research Scheme, which gives companies free independent advice on how to carry out marketing research. Through business contacts in the UK, the company identified several distributors in the Netherlands. UKTI’s advice gave Barfoots the confidence to approach Nature’s Pride, a large produce importer that distributes across Northern Europe. The two started working together and in just 9 months Barfoots has already sold £1.3 million worth of vegetables. Its chillies have been particularly popular and the company has captured 40% of the chilli pepper market across the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Belgium.

In May, Barfoots commissioned Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) reports on France, Italy and Russia. The report on France contained information about local competition and vegetable preference. It also identified several importers with whom the company could work. Juan-Carlos made a market visit in July to meet those named in the report and soon after appointed one as Barfoots’ local distributor. By the end of 2014, the company had sold 3 containers of sweet potatoes and 13 tonnes of chillies, worth £100,000, in France.

“UKTI’s advice helped us recognise the size of the opportunity available in continental Europe,” says Juan-Carlos. “Their introductions in France were particularly helpful and gave our company immediate credibility with large distributors. UKTI’s guidance saved us time and money, and opened doors that otherwise would have been closed to us.”

Future growth

With the strong demand for its produce in France, Barfoots expects to grow its exports there by 300% in the coming year. The company is also currently evaluating Italy as a possible target market. In addition, its relationship with Waitrose has resulted in exports to the supermarket’s 2 branches in the United Arab Emirates. As a result, the company is considering appointing a distributor in Dubai.

In 2015, Barfoots expects exports to make up 5% of its turnover. Over the course of the next 5 years, this is likely to increase to 10%.

“Across Europe, the UK retailers are recognised leaders in integrated global supply chains” says Juan-Carlos. “The solutions that we developed here are unique and relevant to other markets. I would tell any company considering exporting that there is a big world out there and it is worth looking into new opportunities. UKTI’s support has been key to our success and we will continue to rely on their advice as we expand in Europe and beyond.”

Sectors: Agriculture, Horticulture & Fisheries
Export Action Plan