Last year's fastest grower still has plenty of juice

United Foods International, a producer of organic fruit and vegetable juice, was the 2003 winner of the Deloitte/Indy 100 as the fastest-growing company in the UK. A year on, business at Grove Fresh, the Surrey-based subsidiary of United Foods, is going "exceptionally well", according to managing director Andrew Shupick.

When Mr Shupick was appointed in 1998, sales for United Foods were £11.3m and its pre-tax profit was just £68,000. In 2002, group sales were £33.9m, with a pre-tax profit of £1.28m. These are set to be up 30 to 40 per cent in 2003.

Grove Fresh claims that it was the first company to offer chilled organic fruit juices in 1996, and these figures show the growth in the UK organic produce market since.

The success of the group has been centred on the fruit packaging division, FSP Friche in Germany, where most of the 150 staff are based and which accounts for 90 per cent of United Foods' revenue.

Turnover in the UK actually fell in 2002 from 2001 figures, which Mr Shupick says was due to supermarkets pulling back from their focus on organic products. After a redesign of its packaging at the end of 2002 and a major ad campaign in early 2003, Grove Fresh sales in the UK are set to be 57 per cent year on year. This may not be a result of winning the accolade, but "it has raised the profile of Grove Fresh and opened doors for possible business in 2004 and beyond".

Mr Shupick says that topping the Deloitte/Indy 100 awards "has been of assistance in the UK and we used the article to send out a mailing to our major clients".

United Foods was subsequently recognised as the UK's second fastest-growing company on the Europe's 500 listing, the annual European Commission sponsored list, although this was "not of significant importance" as the organic market in Europe is still relatively small.

The juice maker now supplies the majority of supermarkets in the UK, most of which have responded to demand for organic products. There are half-a-dozen established organic brands in the UK, and Grove Fresh is number two behind Yeo Valley.

Crucially, for a pan-European company, most of United Foods' cost base is in Germany and has been affected by the recent strength of the euro. Mr Shupick admits the product supplied to Grove Fresh is more expensive, but says this cost has been absorbed. He accepts lower gross margins because the UK grocery market will not accept this cost being passed on to consumers.

"I've swallowed it [the strength of the euro]," he says, and Grove Fresh has held retail prices since 1999. Consumers have rewarded the company for it.

For further details of how to enter this year's competition, contact Karen Miller at Deloitte on 020 7303 6570 or karenmiller@deloitte.co.uk. The rules can be found at: www.deloitte.com/uk/indy100

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