Agricultural co-op turned limited company Branston traces the start of its growth back to when it began supplying potatoes to Tesco in 1990. It has since steadily acquired most of the other Tesco potato suppliers, and the multiple is its sole customer.
In those days the retailer had 16 potato suppliers. Now it has three, but this will fall to two in three years’ time when Branston will have taken over QV Foods’ Tesco volumes, which it is managing for the time being. It provides Tesco with 5,000 tonnes of potatoes a week (including QV’s output).
Graeme Beattie, Branston MD, says: “One of our main strategies is to make ourselves indispensable to Tesco. We don’t see it as a risk.”
Branston has three potato packing sites - its main base in Lincolnshire, one in Yeovil and one near Perth. It employs 460 people and handles produce from 100 growers, bringing in an annual turnover of £75m.
Branston has recently diversified into prepared products with the launch of microwaveable pouches of new potatoes with butter and herbs.
Branston has been involved in developing new varieties, two of which will be launched in August, in order to add value and interest to the market. “We have been doing work with South American varieties that have unique colours, flavours and textures,” says Beattie.
“But it takes a long time to bring a variety to the market - up to 10 years from first breeding to full production.”
A sizing and grading system that uses cameras to spot defects is to be installed next month at a cost of £2m.
The company also plans to develop prepared potato lines. “This is where we see growth coming from in the near future.”
Greg Meenehan