Outstanding Contribution to the Industry - Winner Bob Thomas, Intercrop

Over his long career in production horticulture, Keble Robert Holliday Thomas (Bob to his friends) has brought big changes to the leafy salad sector in particular.

Outstanding Contribution to the Industry - Winner Bob Thomas, Intercrop
Outstanding Contribution to the Industry - Winner Bob Thomas, Intercrop

In the 1970s he opened a very successful pick-your-own venture and farm shop near Canterbury while expanding the flat lettuce enterprise. The led to his co-founding Kent Salads later in the same decade, when he was among the first to import and grow iceberg lettuce.

As this expanded, he developed the first washed and ready-to-eat bagged salad offer for Marks & Spencer in the mid 1980s, changing the way salad was presented to and consumed by the consumer, with continental salad leaves offering a further point of difference.

When Kent Salads' packing and processing plant was sold to Geest, Bob set up Intercrop to grow for the factory, producing 11 product lines across 100ha in 1992, his first trading year. Baby leaf spinach and lettuce were soon followed by baby-leaf Far Eastern vegetables, providing exotic new textures and tastes, while his innovative high-density method of herb growing yielded soft textures and strong flavours.

When asked for year-round supply in the mid 1990s, he founded joint venture Intercrop Iberica with partner growers in Spain - another industry innovation. Later his knack for collaboration brought together a diverse range of growers to form the Global Salads producer organisation, though this fell victim to Rural Payments Authority interpretation.

The two Intercrop businesses, however, now wholly owned by Intercrop Group, currently produce more than 40 salad crops on 800ha in the two countries, with 30 customers across the UK and Europe and a turnover exceeding £16m.

Bob has supported staff training and development, his placements and mentoring helping to bring on many now senior industry figures, while also working with industry bodies and in his local community. Now in his 70s, Bob is retiring from his role as Intercrop Group chairman after 25 successful years.

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