Interview - Sarah Calcutt, Business development manager, Norman Collett.

Sarah Calcutt is all over the place: here, there, everywhere. Having just returned from Australia, the recent winner of the Nuffield Scholarship is jetting out to the US, then New Zealand, then on to Japan.

Her task in these faraway places is to check out the best marketing strategies for fruit. Her American jaunt alone will take in Washington, Michigan, Florida, New York state and California, which has marketing down to an enviable tee.

Well-structured mobile campaigns ensure growers know how best to market produce like grapes, and can maximise the chances of shoppers plonking a bunch or two in their shopping baskets. Calcutt has high hopes for the marketability of British fruit.

"We need to be more upbeat about the industry," says a woman perfectly poised to supply some good-news stories. The business development manager for Norman Collett handles PR, new products and ethical trading - and she has an infectious optimism.

"There are people struggling, but others have their businesses really sorted and are racing ahead. This year has seen good sales and pricing, and growers are investing in new trees and facilities. They clearly think there's money in fruit."

Take Norman Collett, where she has been for 18 months. The firm is a specialist marketer of English top fruit and represents 50 growers, mostly in Kent, supplying to several supermarkets. One of them is currently ramping up a local-procurement initiative.

From a standing start last year, the initiative has put 30,000 cases of Kent apples into 20 Tesco stores in the county. Next year it will expand into stone fruit and Calcutt is no doubt as impressed with such drive and innovation as her scholarship paymasters.

Nuffield Scholarships are awarded to industry members under the age of 45. Several groups fund around 25 scholarships a year - the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and Bayer CropScience are paying for Calcutt's year of globe-trotting research.

As well as nifty marketing techniques, she will check out advances of a more lasting kind. Medics are honing research into blackcurrants and the treatment of hyperactivity and Parkinson's disease, and for a few weeks she will have a fascinating front seat.

She may be upbeat, but Calcutt is convinced the challenges of selling, packaging and marketing loom ever larger. The need to grab the attention of the multiples' buyers and consumers with fresher imagery and snappier messages has never been greater.

"Quality alone is no longer enough to drive prices towards good profitability," she insists. "The consumer must drive demand if the product is to achieve must-have status. But we have a great opportunity with products offering proven health benefits.

"We have to create a new image to inspire younger people to eat traditional varieties as well as trying new ones. The huge move towards local and seasonal produce has got to be good, but first we have to get our heads around changing employment laws."

Her one downbeat note has a very low pitch. Recent media reports of migrant workforces range from bad press to the out-and-out "witch hunt" variety. Many reporters, she feels, are almost wholly ignorant of growers and the wider industry. "Their perception falls well short of reality in some cases. Journalists harp on about poorly treated eastern Europeans living in dreadful conditions, yet all the growers I deal with treat all their staff 100 per cent fairly."

Calcutt is one media type, however, with an excellent grounding in growing. She was, until a few years ago, the fifth generation of her family to grow apples, pears and hops across 50ha in Cranbrook, Kent.

"It's the interpersonal thing I really enjoy. I'm a gregarious person and found farming too lonely. In my heart, I'm not a farmer - but I'm in the right industry now, working with farmers."

She adds: "Now I'm keen to take in the wider picture through visits to producers and marketing groups in other parts of the world. It will be good to see if and how the motivation, drive and entrepreneurship overseas can inspire the future of our industry in the UK."

CV

1991-1994 Studies French horn, conducting and singing at college

1994-1999 Works in retail before returning to the family farm in Kent and studying an HND in commercial horticulture at Hadlow College

1999-2002 Becomes a self-employed auditor in health and safety and branding before spending nine months developing policy at Lantra

2002-2006 Joins Hadlow College as business development manager

2006 to date Business development manager at Norman Collett

2008 Wins the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers' Nuffield Scholarship.


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