Almost everything at Lincolnshire Herbs is as fresh as its produce, from the gleaming robotic machines to the brand new panes of glass glistening in the sun. Last year saw a £1.2m investment in a new finishing centre with robo-sleeving and packing line to improve production flows and cut labour costs. This, says the firm, is unique in potted herbs.
Then came a £1.8m outlay for another first. The 1ha of glass with energy-efficient double thermal screens is, as far as the company knows, the world's only glass dedicated to growing just coriander. This ongoing project will help remove the quality problems that often dog the growing of the herb in winter. And the firm believes those screens are also a UK first.
Lincolnshire Herbs, formerly Swedeponic UK, wants more firsts, and right now is preparing to pump £1.1m in to a new ground-source heating system to cut gas guzzling by 90 per cent and reduce the firm's carbon footprint by 30 per cent. The company is one of the only businesses to put in a bid under the new Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.
If successful, it will be the UK's first horticultural business to install ground-source heating pumps, says Lincolnshire Herbs. All this will count for little, however, if staff training and practices are not quite up to it. To make sure that they are, a new staff-monitoring system gives regular feedback on performance on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Such full-blooded faith in systems of the future has paid off. The company holds more than half of the market for potted herbs and is wooing supermarkets with its technological approaches, including trials of recycled peat. Last year, it won an outstanding small business award from Morrisons and this year Lincolnshire Herbs can feel fully justified in securing yet another top spot - a first in the 2012 Grower of the Year Awards.
East Coast Growers
Rijk Zwaan is one of the leading seed producers for the vegetable sector, supporting the industry with new developments and techniques. As well as being proud sponsor of the Salads Grower of the Year, the company offers a total needs and services concept helping the whole chain.