?Bagged salad supplier Soleco with its Florette brand relishes having got there first in establishing a power brand. MD Mark Newton is ensuring constant vigour to stay on top

Being a French brand proved to be an advantage for Florette when it entered the own label-dominated UK market with its bagged salads.

The lack of UK competitor brands enabled the company to find a niche, from which it has grown into a national name with a presence in all of the major retailers and an annual UK brand turnover of £32m.

Still the only national brand in prepared salad, it is currently achieving growth of 24% in value year-on-year compared with market growth of just 2.4%.

French parent company Soleco was formed in the mid-1980s and had already been selling Florette branded products in the UK when it opened its first factory in Lichfield in 1999.

The success of its salad bags and bowls and prepared vegetables enabled an expansion of the site to 10,000 sq m in 2004 employing about 420 staff.

Independent and convenience stores gave the brand a foothold to compete with the own label bagged salads being offered by the large supermarkets.

"Being a brand in a sector that is dominated by own label has given our products a certain cachet," said MD of Florette UK, Mark Newton.

But television advertising, in-store promotions and new product development have also all played their part in building innovation into the range.

Annual budget for television advertising alone is £2.5m, and this has grown for the third consecutive year.

The launch of Florette's 'Taste of...' range and a television tie-in with the programme You Are What You Eat have also been successful in boosting consumers' interest in the salad category.

In-store promotions are used in combination with advertising campaigns and other events to attract new consumers who don't yet buy bagged salad every week.

"The trend in salads is towards more innovative recipes and greater convenience," said Newton. "People want complete meal solutions from their salads."

Raw materials are sourced from the UK throughout the summer and then from France and Spain, though the company is working to introduce new seed varieties that can be grown in the UK for the first time.

"This is part of our strategy and desire to grow crops as close to our factory as possible," said Newton.

"Our research has shown that consumers want freshness first and taste second, and price comes third."