Obituary: Devora Peake

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The Independent Culture
DEVORA PEAKE was a fruit farmer and a businesswoman. A change in EU rules in 1969 had meant that she and her husband Bill Peake could no longer sell their smaller or irregularly shaped apples as eating apples, despite the fact that there was no change in their taste or quality. So they brought presses to extract the juice from this fruit, which they marketed as a healthy drink. This was the genesis of one of the country's best-known apple juices, Copella (an acronym of the initial letters of Cox's Orange Pippin plus the end of the name of their youngest daughter, Carmella). At a time when French Golden Delicious apples were a serious threat, Devora Peake championed the English apple.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1915, Devora Peake was the child of Russian immigrants. Her father owned almond and orange groves, and she could remember being afraid of the snakes and scorpions that inhabited them. At the American University of Beirut she read commerce and economics. Later she worked for the Middle East Agency of Lloyd's Underwriters and for United Artists and RKO, handling workmen's compensation claims.

She was about to come to Britain to study fire insurance when she met and married a Jewish English farmer, engineer and inventor, Bernard Loshak. Devora was only 14 when they first met. He was walking through an orange grove when he heard someone whistling the "Kreutzer" Sonata: it was her father, and an acquaintance was struck up.

Devora and Bernard Loshak settled on his 120-acre fruit farm in Boxford, Suffolk. They were divorced shortly after the Second World War, but remained on friendly terms. She kept the land because he felt she was the better farmer, and more likely to make a go of it. Devora married her second husband, Bill Peake, in 1948, who had been in the Admiralty during the war. They met at Champney's health farm, where he was convalescing and she was recovering from her divorce; they played chess together.

Soon they bought additional land. In the summer of 1958 East Anglia suffered a terrible drought, and Devora's experience in Palestine alerted her to the need for the farm to have its own irrigation system. Helped by the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and the banks, she was able to install what was at the time the largest private irrigation scheme in Europe. The apples grew big and juicy and the farm prospered.

Having turned the EU restrictions into a business opportunity, the Peakes saw the sales of Copella grow until by the end of the 1980s it was available throughout the country in supermarkets, delicatessens, health food shops and even hotels and restaurants. Free from colouring, sweeteners or added water, it was the leading brand in the apple-juice market, and there was some demand for it in export markets. The enormous potential required resources beyond the means of the family. Then in 1989, as part of his BBC-TV Troubleshooters series, Sir John Harvey Jones visited Copella, and advised selling that part of the business to the Taunton Cider Company, which they did.

Several family members continued to be involved, working under contract to the new owners. Then in 1992, to everyone's surprise, the family bought back Copella, and expanded it with the addition of Cawston Vale and Copella chilled juices.A Royal Warrant was granted by the Prince of Wales in December 1997, and just after that the business was acquired by Tropicana UK, the leading juice brand in the country. Devora's sons-in-law continue to be involved, with Stephen Unwin as managing director and Roger Rendall as consultant.

In addition to the Copella subsidiary, there were still the fruit and farming businesses, and these expanded, with more land being bought, to a total of 900 acres, including land in Ardleigh and an interest in a farm in Colchester. Four hundred acres produce fruit, not only apples but also strawberries, raspberries and tayberries, cherries and elderflower. Of the remaining farm land, 50 acres are grassland and woodland, and 200 acres arable.

Two hundred acres that were deemed unsuitable for orchards were developed in 1970 and became the Stoke-by-Nayland Golf Club. Bill Peake himself designed two championship courses and a design award-winning clubhouse set around reservoirs. (He died of cancer in 1979.) The golf club is currently being expanded, along with a "Peake Fitness" health centre and a conference centre. In 1997 the golf club won the Bale Award, an initiative by the Suffolk Agricultural Association to find the best alternative use of agricultural land; it also won a Times architectural award.

There was further diversification in 1990, when the family bought Plantsman Ardleigh Storage, a fruit packing and storage company, which changed its image last year, and is one of the country's most innovative top and soft fresh fruit packing and marketing companies. It supplies all the retail multiples with top and soft fruit, and the brand of Peake Fruit is now being developed.

Devora Yaffa Lubarsky, fruit-farmer and businesswoman: born Tel Aviv, Palestine 28 May 1915; MBE 1996; married first Bernard Loshak (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), second 1948 Bill Peake (died 1979; three daughters); died Colchester, Essex 24 March 1999.