Times are tough for salad producers but companies can thrive through product innovation and intelligent product sourcing, says Southern Salads owner and chairman Ray Boakes Never has the UK fresh produce industry been under more pressure to perform under challenging global conditions. Consumers want more interesting produce; climate change and environmental concerns are influencing buying decisions; and the weak pound is pushing prices to their limit. Here at Southern Salads in Kent we have joint venture plants on the Continent, which greatly help us to keep our prices competitive on the current market. The pound is so weak and the euro so strong that our costs have, in some cases, increased by 23%. In many cases we can't pass that increase on to our customers because of existing contracts. But as a company we benefit by being able to source product from Poland without incurring such enormous costs. Consumers and industry in general are talking a lot about the environmental impact of food miles, but demand keeps increasing, and we have to get the produce from where quality and quantity of supply can be guaranteed. In the winter, predominantly imported product will arrive from the salad bowl of Europe. Glasshouses have their limitations as product is dependent on sunlight hours ripening fruit and giving it colour, and southern Europe is the best place for that. Last year saw some of the heaviest rainfall that the UK has ever seen and that has undoubtedly had an impact on fresh produce this spring. Brassica was most affected and so prices have spiralled out of control. All our suppliers are EurepGAP or Assured Produce Scheme certified and Southern Salads has BRC Global Standard Food certification. Being a low-cost operator enables us to provide the highest quality services at competitive and affordable prices all year round. We are constantly working on new salad varieties. We are supplying more leafy salad mixes with varieties such as rocket, mizuna, tatsoi, baby leaves and watercress. We have also developed four lettuce varieties to tackle a number of issues. First, the new varieties satisfy something different. They are two Salanova and two Bellagio varieties, which have a different flavour and new colour, as well as being locally produced in Kent. They are very robust, but the plants have been developed so the stalk is just 5mm in length compared with 20-25mm in length. With these new varieties, the yield is much improved and the end cost is more economical.