Marking a milestone: 25 years of food producer Natures Way
Natures Way Foods is celebrating 25 years of bringing the freshest prepared produce to some of the UK’s leading supermarkets and foodservice chains.
Although you may not see Natures Way branding on your produce, the business supplies Tesco, Morrisons, and Sainsbury’s and even the shredded iceburg lettuce in McDonald’s The Big Mac.
It produces bagged salad, prepared fruit, salad bowls and coleslaw to stores and restaurants all over the country, all from its four factories in Selsey, Runcton, Merston and Drayton.
It all started in 1994 when the business started producing salad with just one wash line and two staff packing the leaves into bags.
The family-owned company was started by brothers Robert and David Langmead, where they saw a simple entrepreneurial opportunity to provide shoppers with a fresh and convenient bag of mixed salad.
With 400 years of farming legacy, the family knew they would have the freshest and best quality product on the market. With that idea at the heart, and with the support of a small but passionate group of customers, the team of just 20 employees launched their first bagged salad product.
Natures Way delivered just over one million bags in their first year and today are capable of producing one million units in just 24 hours.
The business now produces the freshest leafy salads, coleslaw, prepared fruit and salad meals to an increasingly health-conscious shopper.
On his mission when starting out, Robert Langmead said: “The audacious goal I set myself was, wouldn’t it be great if we could produce one healthy fresh food item for every individual in the country? That’s about 65 million, bags of salad, portions of fresh food.
“We produce one of your five a day and actually we can feed the country in a healthy way. A long term goal is can we be in everyone’s fridge once a week across the country. I’d love to do that.”
Natures Way has grown to employ a diverse workforce of nearly 1,200 people and the business continuously invests in its people, as well as technological innovations to deliver the freshest possible products.
Robert and David Langmead said: “This extraordinary journey could not have happened without the energy, passion and commitment of all our people. We have seen ups and downs; successes and failures, and we share these as one team. Here’s to the next 25 years and beyond!”
'Passion of the people' makes a difference
To mark 25 years, staff at Natures Way were this month treated to hog roasts and a goody bag as a way for the company to say thank you for all their hard work.
“Our passion for success has come about because of our great people,” said founder David Langmead.
Robert Langmead added: “It is the people. That’s what makes the difference. It is the engagement of people, the passion of people. That is what makes us different.”
The company employs 1,200 people across its four sites, and one of the company’s core values is to ensure Natures Way Food (NWF) is a brilliant place to work. The company is passionate about looking after its staff, and says more than 70 per cent of its management and leadership positions are promoted internally.
For the company’s 25th birthday, each member of staff received a goody bag containing: a Chilly’s style reusable water bottle; a NWF 25th birthday polo shirt and an NWF recipe book.
The cook book contained recipes from 25 different nationalities – including some from staff – to celebrate ‘the unique blend of cultures at Natures Way.
Mission to reduce plastic packaging
As a company which pioneered bagged salad more than 20 years ago, Natures Way Foods has this year launched its ‘plastic approach’.
The company said: “We believe action is needed to tackle the plastics in the environment from Governments down to individuals. We understand that our business is part of that system and we are committed to help change it for the better.
“Our plastic packaging serves an important purpose in the production of our products. It keeps food fresher for longer, keeping food waste to a minimum.
“Natures Way Foods signed up to the WRAP Pact 2025 and we are working with our customers to reduce the level of non-recycled plastic in our film packaging.
“This has resulted in a reduction of 145 tonnes of plastic and 870 tonnes of carbon since 2018. That’s the equivalent of 45 million plastic carrier bags.”
Natures Way Foods said sustainability is one of its core values, and that it is proud of its zero waste to landfill achievements. What’s more, 85 per cent of all Natures Way Foods waste is recycled. All of the company’s pots, bowls and trays are fully recyclable and are made from 75 per cent recycled content.
And the firm has also signed a 100 per cent renewable energy contract and is reviewing other projects that will offset its carbon.
Natures Way Foods said: “We are very proud of these achievements, but we know there’s more we can do.
“We are working with external consultants and our supply base, both current and new, to find robust and sustainable solutions to single use plastic that deliver against our shopper needs for convenience and freshness.”
Working for Natures Way from (almost) the very beginning
Gary Kilhams, head of projects – operations, at Natures Way, shares his story of 24 years in the business.
He started as a factory supervisor in 1995, and was employee number six.
He’s since managed all four factories, worked in training and development and now looks after substantial factory projects.
“I started in 1995, when the business was just one year old,” Mr Kilhams said. “When I started we were only supplying Tesco and Portsea Island Co-op. In the first year we made one million units, now it’s north of 200 million.
“We were in a corner of David Langmead’s pack house in Runcton. Robert had converted a corner of David’s pack house. We had two production lines and shared some office space.
“Within a year, we had commissioned the building of the Selsey site. I remember Robert saying that this will see us good for three to four years, but we had outgrown within 18 months.”
He shared some of his stories over the years as the business grew to what it is today.
“One of the milestones for the business was when we expanded Runcton on the basis of doing business for the first time with Morrisons. The project was called Project Pinstripe, as when Ken Morrison went to the city to complete the purchase of Safeway he bought his only pinstripe suit and then threw it away! He was a farmer.”
Ken Morrison wanted a supplier who would grow with them.
“We said if you need it we will build a new factory,” Mr Kilhams said. “And we did. That took Runcton to its current form. Then we built Merston in the 2000s.”
Another big project was when Tesco called needing a new coleslaw supplier.
“We were restructuring some areas in Selsey. We thought well we’ll turn it into a coleslaw factory. We did it in 20 weeks, which in the food production business is very fast.”
He explained when the project manager from Tesco came down to inspect the new factory, on the first day of production there was a power cut.
“We sat in the dark drinking coffee until the power came back on!”
On the most rewarding parts of his job, Mr Kilhams said: “It’s about people development for me. There’s been three or four employees that I am quite proud of, who worked with me for a number of years and came up through the ranks. They are now in similar positions in this business or other food production companies. That is always a nice thing.”
The company also puts a lot of work into education and reaching out to the community.
Mr Kilhams explained: “We have always done a lot around schools, going in and giving talks, or GCSE students coming to the factory.
“We were actually involved in funding the floodlights at Selsey Football Club so they could keep their league status.”
So what’s next for Natures Way?
The Langmeads have always seen the company as a ‘transgenerational’ business.
“Going forward the vision is to be the leading produce supplier in the UK,” Mr Kilhams said.
“We are the biggest, but we want to be the best in quality, value and service. Robert’s vision was to put a meal on every table once a week. It is a business that has grown exponentially.
“If I did not believe in what they were doing, I wouldn’t still be here.”
To find out more about Natures Way Foods, visit: www.natureswayfoods.com