By Amadeus & Rich (featured in HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability)
From farm to table
Founded in 1885 by a family of farmers in Tiptree, England, Wilkin & Sons is a British business that grows, makes and sells high-quality foods including marmalades, conserves and more.
Q - How is sustainability playing a role in your approach today?
As farmers, particularly on a LEAF Marque accredited farm, we’ve always had a long-term view on looking after our environment. Rather than using pesticides as a first resort, we walk the fields daily and use natural measures to limit diseases and pests. A good example is our use of spiders to combat insect infestations. Water is a precious, but increasingly scarce, resource in Essex. Our latest investment in fruit growing technology, the Tiptree New Growing System (NGS), captures almost all the rain that falls on the crop, allowing us to recover over 90% of the water used in the growing process. We’ve also replaced two of our Victorian-era steam boilers, which served us well over the last 100 years but were really museum pieces. Our new state-ofthe-art gas-fired boilers deliver 95% efficiency, and we expect to use
at least 25% less gas. We have also installed solar energy systems on the roof of our factory, invested in air compressor systems and converted our boiling pans from oil to gas (saving 30,000 liters of oil each year). When it comes to plastic, we’re in a better position than many, because we fill our jams, marmalades, honeys and the like into glass jars (which are made using recycled glass). We also enjoy it when customers find ways to upcycle them for other uses.
Q - You had an accomplished career at Mars before you joined Wilkin & Sons. What’s different about your approach at Wilkin & Sons against Mars?
Though vastly different in scale, both businesses are family-owned with strong cultures. The singular focus for each company is quality. It’s Mars’ first principle, and it’s one of Wilkin & Sons’ core values, along with Integrity, Independence and Quality.
If there’s a change in approach I’ve been able to introduce it’s a stronger sense of seizing the day, driving forward with opportunities, and being unafraid to fail. Having a smaller team means that you learn to focus your thinking time and practical efforts on what will actually make a difference to the business. Rather than simply being operationally busy, it’s critical that we spend time considering the future.
Q - How are you going ‘‘beyond the norm’’ with your sustainability agenda?
Our most recent project was establishing a silting lagoon at the farm in Tiptree. We wanted to ensure the protection of our waterways and rain harvesting for irrigation.
The lagoon is a very effective and sustainable way of tackling the challenges of more frequent heavy downpours as well as prolonged periods of dry and hot weather.
For the last 20 years, we were using a diesel generator for running the irrigation pumps, systems and equipment. Now, we have our own solar farm and battery storage. Clean, sustainable and entirely our own. Tiptree NGS, which I mentioned earlier, is where sustainability meets innovation. We’re the pioneers of this type of structure in the UK farming industry. It ensures earlier produce, reduced carbon footprint, increased yield, and given that Essex is one of the driest areas in the country, the fact that it’s 90% self-sufficient in water use makes it even more extraordinary.
Q - What advice would you give to retail leaders trying to integrate sustainability into their next project?
The big challenge in the FMCG/ CPG industry is that customers love locally sourced, sustainable produce. But if you ask them their views on grocery shopping, a lot of the time they go with price. For example, people want to support British milk production, but don't necessarily want to pay higher prices. It’s a balance between what people think and how they behave. That’s why I would emphasize that all retailers focus on a long-term sustainable model rather than a short-term boom – which is usually followed by bust. Customers are continuously auditing retailers’ sustainability credentials, so don’t just treat your CSR as a box-ticking exercise. You want to be doing this from your heart. And that starts with your longterm strategy.
Q - What will ‘‘sustainable retailing’’ look like in 2025?
I hope we make progress in the FMCG/CPG category, particularly in two areas. The first is to treat all people with respect – employees, suppliers, customers, shoppers, the local community, whoever. The sustainability of your relationships with people is just as important as the sustainability of material things, and even connected. If you treat everyone with respect, you may have some disagreements, but you establish a long-term relationship. Secondly, I believe that we will see a significant shift in packaging, moving towards reusable and recycled items and materials. Ideally, sustainable retailing will be the norm rather than the exception.
To read more of our thoughts on Sustainability, check out HMKM Eye #2 - Selling Sustainability: https://rebrand.ly/HMKM_WeLove1