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By launching a 20-year plan on how it will help the Kent – and British – economy, apple producer AC Goatham and Son hopes it can persuade councillors to let it build a giant new storage facility.
For a family firm run by father and son, it has a clear vision on its role in global food production.
Founded in 1947, the company has invested £30m in the last seven years to position itself as the provider of a sixth of all apples sold in Britain, through its 14 farms and 20 partner farms across Kent.
That investment, including a new £10m HQ at Flanders Farm in Hoo, is thanks to the consumer. In recent years supermarkets have turned to British growers as shoppers’ interest has turned to locally produced food, with AC Goatham one of the major benefactors.
Co-owner Clive Goatham, son of late founder Arthur Goatham, said: “To supply the consumer with what they want supermarkets had to look within Britain.
“Suddenly the consumer was more aware and interested in where their food was sourced from. Food miles and carbon footprint suddenly became much more important.
“We were already involved with supermarkets but not to the extent we are now.”
Now the apple, pear and cherry producer is laying out plans for growth in the future, setting out a 20-year strategy to export their products around the world and supply their top client Sainsbury’s with Kentish apples all year round. The season currently stands at eight months.
Yet a question mark hangs over the firm’s scheme. Clive and his son Ross want to build a new storage facility on five acres of greenfield land next to their new HQ, which itself took more than eight years to get through the planning system with Medway Council.
The building will hold 6,000 tonnes of fruit, with a retail value of more than £10m. To keep within their growth targets, the company hopes to have it open by April next year.
They are launching a public consultation on their 20-year plan this month and will submit a planning application this summer.
Clive said: “We see the added facility here as being an absolute necessity to facilitate the filtration of British produce throughout the world.
“That £10m of fruit would otherwise be imported. It’s a benefit to the nation if successful.
“This expansion will support the British market.”
The company feels its importance to the Kent economy
justifies the move, estimating it has contributed £100m in the last seven years.
This year it estimates it will produce £12m worth of goods (gross value added or GVA) with its partner farms. Should it get the go-ahead with the next phase of its growth, this will rise to £28m within 20 years.
Nick Holmes, a partner at Faversham-based chartered accountants Chavereys, said: “There is a very low average GVA in Medway and it’s very important the local authority understands just how big this business is and the growth it can give.
“During the downturn this business grew from £4m GVA to £12m. For five acres you get an extra £16m GVA, plus jobs.
“If the local authority give us this, we will give them a lot more.”
As British exports continue to grow, the company also believes Medway will miss an opportunity if its plans are stifled.
At present the firm employs the equivalent of 230 full-time staff, 300 seasonal staff and says it influences 1,200 jobs in Kent. The 20-year plan predicts its influence will be closer to 2,500 jobs come 2035.
The new site will initially create at least 45 full-time jobs, which will grow further.
Ross said: “The woeful lack of modern storage is holding us back in development long term.
“Without this kind of investment there’s no sustainability going forward.
“Only by investment such as this will we be able to bring those cost savings about for consumers in order to compete with importers on value.”
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