From the pages of Produce Business UK
It’s been an impressive year for the family-run Jupiter Group, based in Shropshire, the UK. In April, the company joined forces with breeder ARD to pioneer late-season ARRA table grape production in Greece, as part of a wider goal to bring to the international market new grape varieties supplied year-round from Chile, Greece and India.
In June, The Sunday Times ranked Jupiter 17th in its International Track 200 league table, which recognizes Britain’s fastest-growing, private mid-market businesses based on international sales. That was followed, in October, with the award for ‘Best Fresh Produce Company 2018’ from Lux Life magazine, and the launch of Global Roots, Jupiter’s quarterly digital magazine.
Then, just this month, the firm announced its acquisition of South African grower Bonaire – renamed Jupiter South Africa – whose future plans include trialing new citrus, grape and stonefruit varieties.
To discover the driving force of this progressive and innovative company, PBUK spoke with Yvonne Tweddle, a director at Jupiter and the wife of Mark Tweddle, Jupiter’s CEO and Managing Director.
A lot has changed since Jupiter was established in 2003 with just “a blank sheet of paper, a pen and a telephone.” Operating as Jupiter Marketing, the firm began importing produce to the UK before branching out into international sales in 2008. Now, rather than buying fresh produce, Jupiter is the grower.
“In the last five years, we’ve become more serious as a business; we’ve changed our service provision to become an international provider,” Tweddle explains.
“We see the value in being the grower; as more of the world’s customers want to go direct to source. It gives us more control over what can happen. We’re involved in all aspects of production, from agronomy though to growing and technical.”
Today, Jupiter is a global producer-supplier, with a turnover close to £60 million. The company owns year-round production of table grapes (in Chile, Greece, India, Morocco and Namibia), citrus (South Africa and Zimbabwe), and stonefruit (Greece and South Africa). Kiwifruit and top fruit represent other core lines sourced by Jupiter.
Produce is delivered direct to retailers, wholesalers and foodservice providers worldwide via Jupiter’s international network of offices that now includes Argentina, Chile, Greece, Hong Kong, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and the UK.
Although Jupiter still supplies the UK, Tweddle says the primary focus is on producing and sourcing fruit to offer a complete ‘root to retail’ solution, selling produce “literally all over the world.”
“We haven’t tried to compete on our own doorstep,” she points out. “We’ve looked to other markets as a solution for growth. We’ve taken our story to people, and they’ve liked what they’ve seen. Specifically, we are working a lot in the Far East. Earlier this year, we opened an office in Hong Kong to demonstrate our commitment to the region.”
Over the past two years, Jupiter’s global exports have risen sharply from £1.8m in 2015 to £9.42m in 2017, while overall sales have increased dramatically to almost £60m in the past five years. To enable this, Tweddle says everything in the business that could change, has changed.
“We’ve changed our processes, our evaluation of processes, our infrastructure, etc.,” she details. “We’ve really looked at whether we’re doing things for the long term or the short term. We’ve asked more questions of what we need and what we need our people to be doing.”
Importantly, Tweddle says Jupiter has not been “arrogant” about who it will serve and who it won’t. “We have all spectrums of customers,” she explains. “As long as people are credit-worthy and will pay, then we’ll deliver.”
As a result, Jupiter has opened a new international office almost annually for the past five years. Its website is translated into eight languages, and Jupiter is active on the global trade fair scene.
But the company’s mindset is perhaps the most crucial aspect. “Where people have said something is impossible, we look upon that as a challenge,” Tweddle indicates. “We don’t look at a problem; we only ever look at the solution.
“For example, we were told it would be impossible to take new varieties of grapes or any fresh products to India, and we succeeded. It was a massively complex process regarding phytosanitary access, government agreements, etc. Plus, we had to gain the breeders’ trust and confidence.”
Currently, Jupiter attests to being the only company in the world to legally take new varieties of table grapes to India, the first to take them in scale to Greece, and the Master License holder to produce those new varieties in both countries.
What Tweddle won’t reveal, however, is how Jupiter overcame the challenges, describing the achievement as a “trade secret.”
The company’s can-do attitude was certainly key to this success, though, and features prominently within its workplace culture.
“We encourage and train our staff to really think about how to deal with problems,” Tweddle remarks. “That makes us flexible and reactive, and I think that has helped us.”
More broadly speaking, Jupiter operates an inclusive and collaborative working environment that makes for a dynamic and enjoyable workplace.
Continuous training is offered. All staff are given the opportunity to openly contribute their views or ideas, either through weekly meetings or by directly contacting the Managing Director. Credit is given to those who generate ideas, too.
“Someone at the bottom of our hierarchy can influence the business as much as those at the top,” Tweddle explains. “It takes some building of confidence to get people to contribute ideas but when they’re listened to, it makes a difference.”
Tweddle says everything comes back to Jupiter’s core values, which are printed across the walls of its UK office. They include: to be open to new ideas, to help others, to recognize success and to make a difference, as well as integrity, trust, openness, patience and understanding.
“Every single employee meets with Mark, our MD, on their first day to explain the company’s core values,” she explains. “We don’t always get it right, but it’s a good benchmark.
“The key is to work hard and enjoy life. But we’re not for the faint hearted… if you’re not prepared to roll up your sleeves, you won’t survive here. We’ve all been known to work on the packing line, even the MD.”
In a further nod to this inclusive spirit, last month Jupiter launched an e-magazine called ‘Global Roots’ to which all employees can contribute.
The idea is to help customers, suppliers, and employees to better understand the firm and its people by sharing and celebrating company news, staff profiles and charity work, in addition to market insight, quizzes and competitions.
“It’s something we decided to do,” remarks Tweddle. “There’s a cost to it, and we want to pay that price to communicate about our business. Others may not see the value, but this is about being your own business.”
When it comes to making its mark on the world stage, the recent Lux Life award recognised Jupiter as a “leading light and innovator.” Indeed, with an entrepreneur at the helm, Tweddle says no two days are the same, which makes for a “very energetic” team.
“We’re always working on innovations and ‘crazy ideas’ as the industry would perhaps term them,” she explains. “We never been afraid to fail, and I think that’s a point of difference for us.”
Ultimately, Tweddle claims the innovation has got to appeal, or there’s no point. “It’s understanding how big the benefit is,” she says. “Sometimes it’s the little things that surprise you … and one thing we’ve learnt, is to get the timing right.”
For Jupiter, this has meant growing new varieties of grapes, and shortly citrus and stonefruit.
“We plant the varieties we believe would work in the market,” Tweddle notes. “Then we can offer retailers both traditional and new varieties with a consistency of standards and processes.”
Back in 2012, Jupiter hatched a plan to develop year-round, exclusive production of new and “superior-tasting” table grape varieties across more than 500 hectares of its own vineyards in Chile, Greece and India.
To that end, Jupiter is now the sole license holder for ARRA grapes in Greece, where it has pioneered the production of four late-season, seedless white, red and black varieties – ARRA 15, ARRA 19, ARRA28 and ARRA 32. The first yield was harvested last month (October), with the young vineyards described as “very impressive.”
“The signs are really good,” Tweddle reveals. “I don’t think we’ll achieve year-round supply for 2019, but definitely for 2020 and 2021. Then we can offer retailers around the world a different option; more choice.”
The new varieties will also extend availability. “We can bring them to the market sooner and for a longer period which helps the grower, the supermarket, and the consumer,” Tweddle surmises. “Some of the growing seasons vary, which might give us a competitive edge.”
Going forward, Jupiter has plans to develop new varieties of citrus, stonefruit and grapes via the recently formed Jupiter South Africa. Varietal trials will begin as part of the acquisition of Bonaire – a local citrus, stonefruit and grape producer.
“I can’t say which varieties,” Tweddle states. “Bonaire has a large farm on the Zimbabwean border that produces citrus and we’ll be trialling there. We have similar plans for stonefruit, but I can’t say more!”
As for Jupiter’s other next steps, Tweddle says we’ll have to wait and see …