Product and varietal development, and not the discovery of entirely new fruit and vegetables, hold the key to growth for one of the biggest fresh produce importers.
Birmingham-based Minor Weir & Willis says there are sufficient unexploited varieties of existing products to support expansion for the foreseeable future. This, coupled with traditional plant breeding focused on improved flavour, will be at the heart of activities over the next few years.
By way of an example, the company supplies 25 varieties of mango alone, but there are “many hundreds” of varieties still to be harnessed, says MD Sant Mehta.
The company plays an active role in getting shoppers to try new produce. “We are at the forefront of trends and pushing the market with new varieties, mixes and ways of presenting products,” says Mehta. “We might sell to just 10% of consumers with many products, but that means we can grow 10-20% per year from small volumes.”
Minor Weir & Willis was founded in 1963 as a UK-only trading company focused on exotics, and was purchased by the current family owners in 1974. It is now a pan-European group supplying everything from tomatoes and leeks to mangoes and star fruit with customers including Sainsbury, Morrisons, Somerfield and the Co-operative Group.
Group sales in the UK are £55m, and overseas activities boost this to £90m.
Some companies in fresh produce have become sole supplier to a major retailer. But it’s not a strategy favoured by Minor Weir & Willis, partly because it specialises in exotics. Mehta says: “For less high volume produce you need a number of customers to justify the volumes.”
Greg Meenehan