Horticulture Week Business Award - High-Growth Business of the Year

Winner - Bridge Farm Group

Bridge Farm Group’s growth has been dramatic since 2012. In just six years, the business — a combination of two small family plant growers, Neame Lea and Bridge Farm — has been developed into four key brands forming a hi-tech, cost-effective and cutting-edge horticultural group with a £24.7m turnover. The group is now one of the largest ornamental plant producers in the UK.

Bridge Farm was originally set up by Tony and Jayne Ball in 1988 to supply local garden centres and wholesalers with mini houseplants. Their son David Ball joined in 2007 and was appointed managing director in 2012.

David identified an opportunity to differentiate the business by becoming the UK’s largest, most efficient and lowest-cost producer. Since then, the focus has switched to low-cost production, automation, a streamlined supply chain and sustainable routes to market.

Historically, the businesses had traded through wholesalers, creating inefficiencies and impaired margins. The majority of sales are now made direct to UK supermarkets. New and existing client relationships are reinforced by the group’s ability to create value and grow revenues through collaboration and strategic product selection. The business now has four brands — Neame Lea Nurseries (plants), Neame Lea Fresh (herbs), Zyon UK (cut flowers) and Neame Lea Marketing (packaging and pre-merchandising).

After securing a £10m investment in 2015, the business redeveloped its Horseshoe Road site, enabling the introduction of automated sowing machines, transplanting machines, robotic spacing machines, automated watering, a bench transport system and biomass heating. The new 4ha hi-tech production and packing facility has reduced labour costs and increased production capacity, generating a margin improvement of 14%.

A further £30m venture capital investment from North Edge Investments in 2017 enabled the business to push ahead with a new 30ha development in Spalding, embracing the latest in horticulture technology.

Phase one is 68,000sq m and will hold three-million 10.5cm pots and one-million six-packs. Phase two will add a further 58,000sq m of growing space and phase three will add a further four loading bays, 24MW of heat and additional reservoirs.

Turnover has increased from £2m to £24.7m and there are plans to diversify the product range by growing and extracting plant oils as well as working directly with manufacturers and distributors.

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