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New year review 11/01/2019, Info

5 years have passed by since I registered a company at Companies House and kicked off the work to launch fresh-range. Back in November 2013 we put in place a 6 month software development project to reach the point where we could actually deliver some local food to a customer. We’ve never stopped innovating the technology platform behind fresh-range since. 2018 was no different with a whole host of new features enabling fresh-range to go further to delight more customers more often whilst adding more and more local producers into the supply chain.

When we formed the company, we put in place a company purpose; to deliver exceptional food experiences with fresher, local seasonal food and develop food security for generations to come. We wanted to change food supply for good; creating a network of happy customers, producers, partners and team members. I’m proud to say we’ve stayed true to this purpose with greater and greater focus on how to achieve its aims.

This year, the UK’s substantial food insecurity may well be exposed more than we ever thought possible as a result of the Brexit referendum result in 2016. Since we started working closely with Defra (read on to find out more) this year I took the opportunity to meet with my contacts at The Home Office in Westminster and argue the case for what the UK government should be doing - from a food procurement standpoint - to plan for a “No Deal Brexit”. It really is not scare-mongering to suggest the country may face fresh food shortages across a range of categories if the UK were to crash out of the EU without a deal in a couple of months’ time. I wonder whether a single government minister considered that the timing could be any worse from a food insecurity perspective of triggering Article 50’s 2-year countdown at end of March – slap bang in the middle of the hungry gap - where we have little or no fresh vegetables ready to harvest at all in this country. Couple Brexit risks with the summer drought conditions of 2018 and future weather predictions of more of the same in the future; a picture of food insecurity risk emerges in UK. Significant action really is needed.

So, what are we doing about it? The fresh-range team is working hard to shape a more positive future of UK food security. Indeed, at times this year it has felt like we are punching significantly above our weight. We have held conferences for West of England public sector food procurers to learn how to procure food more sustainably. We also founded the UK’s National Advisory Board for Dynamic Food Procurement which brought together policy makers and practitioners of food procurement with producers and food suppliers with the aim of diverting public sector food and drink spend to fresh, local produce from sustainable SME producers. The progress of the board in 2018 has exceeded all expectations. Chaired by The Soil Association’s Food For Life Program Director and with membership that includes senior procurement officers from Defra and procurers from Crown Commercial Services (the government procurement agency that buys >£700Billion of stuff a year for central government departments), the board has professors of food procurement talking to procurement professionals, farmers and SME food suppliers about how to act progressively to enable public sector to lead the way on sustainable food procurement. I am delighted that we understand Crown Commercial Services will go public imminently about their intention to form dynamic purchasing systems that enable small, independent growers to supply local and central government buyers - right across the UK. These are customers that small, independent, local food producers have rarely previously been able to reach. This innovative approach to food procurement was inspired by the work of Bath and North East Somerset Council’s procurement team using fresh-range as a technology and management agent right here in the West of England. By changing from conventional single-supplier lot based procurement approaches to a dynamic procurement approach managed via the fresh-range platform has meant short, fast and light supply chains have been formed for food. This enables local, organic vegetables to be harvested to order for school children to eat and higher welfare meat with farm provenance being served. It’s a big, important shift that’s occurred whilst still delivering against (ridiculously) tight ingredient spend budgets.

In addition to our work in procurement for catering customers, we plan some exciting innovation in the fresh-range home delivery store this coming year. Just over 18 months ago, a fresh-range customer – Tim Martin, who lives just outside Bristol - approached us with an idea that we loved. Having worked in TV for many years as a BBC wildlife Executive Producer on many of the wildlife programs so many of us enjoy, Tim decided to take his passion for wildlife to a new level. Devastating declines among so many of Britain’s native species - due, in part, to industrial farming practices - have resulted in tree sparrows, cuckoos and hedgehogs being virtually wiped out in the past 30 years or so. Tim plans to launch a new brand of food called Farm Wilder on the fresh-range platform this Spring. Farm Wilder will give consumers the choice to buy beef, lamb or beer (and more products in the future) from farms that have successfully restored populations of rare native species through interventions to create nurturing environments on their farm. I will communicate later this year about the crowd funding campaign Tim is launching which will enable all of us to enjoy consuming such food and drink in the future.

As ever, we remain open to ideas and questions from our customers. Many of the new products and producers we added to the fresh-range store last year were in response to customer requests. Please do not hesitate to contact us with your own suggestions.

Have a wonderful 2019. I wish you health, happiness and fantastically fresh produce all year.

Rich Osborn
Director, Fresh-range