Business Award Winners' Insight for 2020 - Bridge Farm Group

The winners of the 2019 Horticulture Week Business Awards reveal their priorities for 2020 and detail opportunities and challenges.

Image: Bridge Farm Group
Image: Bridge Farm Group

Awards: High Growth Business of the Year, Most Admired Business of the Year and Protected Ornamentals Grower of the Year

Richard Priestley (pictured), commercial director (Neame Lea Marketing)

What are your key goals/priorities as a business for 2020?

The business has continued to grow and expand across several areas of horticulture. In the early part of 2019, we were able to commence growing in phase one of our new production facility at Clay Lake in Spalding. By the start of 2020 we will have most of our automation fully installed and operational at Clay Lake and an additional 5.6ha of production space coming online by the early spring.

Our goal is to maximise the investment made in both our new site and also the Horseshoe Nursery, where we have seen significant reductions in labour input and an improvement in product quality. Our continued priority has to be working closely with our customers to refine and develop a range of plants tailored to a constantly evolving customer base.

What do you regard as the biggest opportunity for you as a business (or for your sector) in 2020 and why?

We have developed the production of seasonal flowers to wrap around our seasonal plant business. We have seen the opportunity to develop sales of British-grown tulips, stocks and lilies, and have found traction with our customer base for a UK-grown alternative. With modern facilities, biomass heating and more automation, we have realised the benefits of producing poinsettias as a pre-Christmas crop and we will look to increase the amount we produce.

What do you feel will be the biggest challenge for you as a business (or for your sector) in 2020 and why?

Labour will present significant problems, and this is not necessarily the amount of available labour but the quality of it. With increases in minimum wage aside, we feel the labour element of our production costs will increase due to lower productivity. As a business, we have looked to counter this by increased automation, and while this does make significant differences, we will need to continually drive excessive labour cost out of our production processes. Generally, cost increases have a continuing effect in an industry that struggles to pass on increased cost to customers. In common with the rest of the industry, we strive to be ever more efficient. But it becomes increasing difficult to absorb costs that are largely out of our control.

What was the best thing about winning a Horticulture Week Business Award for you as a business?

We were extremely honoured to be recognised. The past five years have been a phenomenal period for the business and 2019, in particular, has been a pinnacle of our current achievement. Shortly after the Horticulture Week Business Awards, we announced the sale of the business to Sundial Growers Inc, a Canadian cannabis company that subsequently launched on the Nasdaq exchange. We have always been a very hard-working business and it is extremely encouraging to have that hard work recognised. The driving force behind the development of the business has been David Ball and he rightly received recognition as an inspirational leader.

This year is a new chapter for the business and our focus is on ornamental horticulture, where we will continue to give customers outstanding value and quality. We are continuing to invest in UK horticulture and have repeatedly put our money where our mouth is. The best thing about winning the awards is recognition from within our own industry, acknowledging the hard work and effort that every member of our team puts in every day.

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