Unbeleafable wins New Product Award at the Sammies

Unbeleafable wins New Product Award at the Sammies

Another week, another win, and this time it was at the Oscars for the sandwich and food to go industry, otherwise known as the Sammies.

Unbeleafable scooped the New Product Award at the glittering and glamourous awards ceremony at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. Tom Robb, National Account Manager, and Lisa Harrison-Bell, Head of Marketing, who were both equally glamourous, were there to pick up the award, which recognises development and innovation by suppliers within the industry and looks at both ingredients and packaging/equipment.

It’s such a fantastic boost for our fabulous team that have been working tirelessly on Unbeleafable. It’s the fourth award for the vertically grown salad since its launch in Tesco stores last summer with Unbeleafable rocket and baby leaves being named the Champion brand in The Grocer’s New Product and Packaging Awards 2023 Deli category and also winning the silver award in the Quality Food Awards 2023.

And earlier this year, Unbeleafable rocket and baby leaves were named the best vegan side at the highly sought-after Vegan Food and Living Product Awards 2024.

GrowUp is in the running some more awards later this year, so let’s hope we continue our winning streak!

Shiny Happy People 😊

Shiny Happy People 😊

We are over the moon to share that GrowUp Farms has been recognised by the Sunday Times as being one of the best places to work in the UK for 2024, for the second year in a row!

The Sunday Times Best Places to Work list is like the ultimate validation for companies that know how to keep their employees happy and motivated leading to an Unbeleafably positive work environment.

The newspaper once again partnered with the career development platform, WorkL, to create a comprehensive employee survey to build an in-depth picture of employees’ engagement and wellbeing in the workplace. To make the cut, you’ve got to score at least 70% in overall engagement. And guess what? We smashed it!

We’re delighted to be in the top 200 medium-sized businesses in the UK to snag this honour. And with WorkL checking out 50,000 companies, it’s no mean feat.

Our aim at GrowUp Farms is to nurture, educate and develop our employees to be the best they can be, and to encourage their curiosity and their passion.

Our team is the heart and soul of our operation, and we’re committed to making sure they have the most inspiring, rewarding, and—let’s not forget—fun place to work! 🌟

Behind The Brand: GrowUp Farms The UK’s Fastest-Growing Salad Brand

Behind The Brand: GrowUp Farms The UK’s Fastest-Growing Salad Brand

The stories you don’t know about some of the world’s best and little-known brands

“From a consumer point of view, everybody buys bag salad because it’s healthy and convenient,” says Kate Hofman, co-founder of pioneering UK vertical farm GrowUp. She then turns the tables and asks how I feel about the experience. It is, I respond, usually a wilting, unsatisfying one.

Hofman is expecting my answer. “It doesn’t matter where you shop or what bag of salad you buy, it’s how everyone feels and hates the fact that it doesn’t stay fresh for long enough,” she says.

“We saw this unusual commercial opportunity where we could produce a product that really solved a consumer problem.”

Last year, GrowUp’s Unbeleafable brand became the first-ever salad range grown by a vertical farm in the UK stocked in Tesco. Given that the UK imports around 90% of its salad through winter, this was a breakthrough moment for the homegrown, year-round product with longer-lasting leaves.

“The powerful thing for me is developing a brand which people are engaging with and starting to trust,” says Hofman, who is also chief brand officer. “There aren’t a lot of brands in produce as historically it’s been impossible to guarantee the quality and reliability of the product. But we can deliver utility and consistency year round.”

GrowUp Farms opened its Kent site in Pepperness in late 2022, with £100 million equity-backed funding. By using vertical farming techniques, the vast hanger-style warehouse grows fresh, pesticide-free salad indoors, employing hydroponics and LED lighting to optimise growth conditions while minimising water usage and environmental impact.

GrowUp Farms is a pioneer in UK vertical farming and has spent over a decade growing restaurant-quality salad.
GrowUp Farms is a pioneer in UK vertical farming and has spent over a decade growing restaurant-quality salad.

Having worked as a management consultant at IBM, Hofman took a sabbatical to do a Masters in environmental technology in business at Imperial College. She calls herself “an accidental entrepreneur” after seeing potential in what was called urban farming back in 2012.

As her interest heightened, she met her now co-founder, engineer Tom Webster, through a mutual friend.

“We were really interested in making sustainable food more affordable for more people,” she says. “And growing it in a way that recruited the environmental impact.”

The duo started with their first aquaponics venture (The GrowUp Box) courtesy of a shipping container with a greenhouse on top, which in a car park by London’s Borough Market.

Both living close by, they would cycle over at 5am and worked with restaurants and traders at the market.

“People loved the story and the quality. It convinced us that there was something there to scale to the production and products which would have a meaningful impact.”

Their next farm (Unit 84) saw them take on an existing warehouse and install a growing system. Upgrading from bikes to an electric van for deliveries, they sold into New Covent Garden and retailers, including Whole Foods, across London.

“Even back then, in 2014, we recognised we had this fantastic way of growing a delicious product and if we were to bring growing indoors into a controlled environment, we needed energy for it,” she recalls.

With carbon footprints and net zero yet to weave its way into the business psyche, GrowUp ran a lifecycle analysis to understand the impact.

Hofman says: “You have to run a vertical farm on renewable energy otherwise the carbon footprint of what you are doing is higher than the conventional supply chain. We had to think ahead and ways of solving the energy part of food production.”

GrowUp Farms was founded by Kate Hofman and Tom Webster in 2013 - with their container box near Borough Market.
GrowUp Farms was founded by Kate Hofman and Tom Webster in 2013 – with their container box near Borough Market.

The founders worked with a partner who had built three renewable power stations in the UK — including in Speyside for whisky manufacturing — to provide heat and energy to local industry. Businesses were directly plugged in and benefiting from the renewable heat and with GrowUp looking for infrastructure they could build a farm next to, they landed upon a site in Kent.

“We realised that energy and food production are two sides of the same coin,” adds Hofman.

The two businesses merged, with Marcus Whately taking over as GrowUp Farms’ CEO. The first seeds were planted in Sandwich in November 2022 — a decade on from their container box idea — while their first products hit supermarket shelves last February.

“What you are doing is creating the perfect growing conditions for your farm 365 days a year,”

says Hofman, with conditions and temperature mimicking Italy and Spain where the UK imports its salads from.

“For plants to be healthy and happy, it needs light, water but also the right temperature and airflow. For environmentally controlled aspects of the growing we use renewable heat which makes it a much more cost effective way of running a farm.”

GrowUp Farms newest vertical farm is near Sandwich in Kent. It combines innovative farming technology with renewable energy.
GrowUp Farms newest vertical farm is near Sandwich in Kent. It combines innovative farming technology with renewable energy.

In 2021, electricity would have accounted for around 25% of a vertical farm’s operating costs, but that has now risen up to 50%. GrowUp, says Hofman, use 40% less electricity and save around £7.3m from being on site in Sandwich.

“That’s a significant saving for any business but there are lots of challenges for vertical farms with rising energy prices,” she adds.

GrowUp uses up to 94% less water than traditional growing, while the company hopes to further break down the supply chain barrier with its fresh produce over current import challenges. Hofman says: “It’s how we build more resilience into the UK’s food system.”

The farm’s success last year led to Hofman being invited to the Downing Street Farm to Food summit as an industry expert, alongside traditional farmers. The summit was held in response to a 40-year low in domestic salad production.

“GrowUp Farms is part of the evolution of the great British farming tradition, helping to build a more sustainable food system for the UK,” she says. “We are doing things differently and making it mainstream, and businesses like ours have never been more needed for UK food production.”

My food & drink job: Phoebe Stonier, brand & marketing associate, GrowUp Farms

My food & drink job: Phoebe Stonier, brand & marketing associate, GrowUp Farms

Name: Phoebe Stonier

Age: 24

Job title: Brand & marketing associate

Company & location: GrowUp Farms in Sandwich, Kent

Education: Event management at Canterbury Christ Church University

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I dreamt of becoming a West End dancer, inspired by my mum who was a dance teacher.

Why did you decide to go for a career in food & drink? I am a massive foodie! So that was the initial inspiration for looking into a career in food and drink, and GrowUp Farms’ vision of being an innovative and pioneering vertical farm attracted me.

“This is the future of food and something I am really interested in”

The highly controlled indoor environment the team have built, using state-of-the-art technology to create the perfect Mediterranean spring climate 365 days a year to grow salad leaves, is going to play a key role in helping the UK to become self-sufficient in growing salad and scaling back our reliance on overseas imports.

It means salad is now grown in the UK all year round and two brands – Fresh Leaf Co and Unbeleafable – are now available to buy in Iceland and Tesco respectively. This is the future of food and something I am really interested in.

Read more: How GrowUp Farms is growing UK salad supply year round

Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): My job is a dynamic mix of tasks, ranging from designing marketing materials and packaging, handling social media accounts to organising the Christmas party.

What does a typical day look like for you? Every day is unique with a huge variety of different tasks, including going inside the farm itself to get salad samples, liaising with our creative agencies, designing adverts for our latest brand Unbeleafable, copywriting and organising internal and external events.

Unbeleafable new packaging

Tell us how you went about applying for your job: Getting hired at GrowUp Farms involved three interviews, with the final stage requiring a presentation to the founder, Kate Hofman, where I had to outline strategies for a successful product launch and marketing campaigns.

It was very daunting, and I put everything I had into the last interview. Thankfully, it paid off!

What’s the best part about working for a food & drink company? Being a part of a brand and concept I truly believe in.

And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food and drink? People often think it’s easy, as everyone needs food and drink, but we have to work hard to make a big impact in order to stand out from the crowd – which we are really achieving now.

What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? Gain diverse experiences, network, and stay passionate about the field.

What’s your ultimate career dream? Becoming a brand manager really appeals to me!

Salad grower trials new water-saving technology

Salad grower trials new water-saving technology

New technology which its designers hope will have a major impact on reducing wastewater has been trialled at a vertical farm.

Water treatment expert Salinity Solutions teamed up with indoor salad producer GrowUp Farms in Sandwich, Kent, for the 10 day trial.

Wastewater from the growing process, as well as elsewhere on the site, was collected and re-circulated twice, using a unique pressure system.

Liam Burlace, co-founder of Salinity Solutions, said: “This allows us to reach much higher recoveries making more fresh water accessible.”

Salad crops in a vertical farm At GrowUp Farms, crops are grown in layers under special LED lights

The standard technology used in the industry is called reverse osmosis, in which water is purified by pumping it through a semi-permeable membrane.

Salinity Solutions has developed a way of re-circulating the water, to treat it twice in an energy-efficient way.

Mr Burlace said: “The aim here is to treat water better, so we want to extract as much fresh water as possible, whilst minimising the energy consumption of the system.”

The GrowUp Farms’ Pepperness site spans just five acres in Sandwich, but has the equivalent of 1,000 acres of growing space in a controlled environment, powered by renewable energy.

Salad crops for supermarkets are grown in fertilised water, rather than soil.

GrowUp Farms says the ground-breaking batch reverse osmosis technology – the first in the world to be manufactured commercially – could have a major impact on reducing wastewater, not only in the food sector but in many other sectors around the world, helping to solve the emerging global water crisis.

In the trial at the Sandwich site, rain water, water used for cleaning and “old” irrigation water were recycled.

Liam Burlace of Salinity SolutionsLiam Burlace, who co-founded the company, said the aim was to “treat water better”

GrowUp Farms impact director, Gillon Dobie, said: “Globally, demand for water is set to double over the next five years.

“Water treatment consumes 4% of the world’s total electricity production and conventional reverse osmosis systems are traditionally energy intensive.

“Crucially, Salinity Solutions’ technology uses half the energy of existing systems while recovering up to 98% of clean water.”

Much of what is left over from the process is concentrated fertiliser, which can also potentially be recycled.

‘Fantastic innovations’

Senior lecturer in environment and sustainability at the University of Surrey, Dr Zoe M Harris, said: “Vertical farms are already fantastic innovations in that they already recycle their water. They are closed loops, recirculating systems. So we already have a saving there.

“By collaborating with Salinity Solutions, they are basically doubling up on their advantage.

“If they can further recover precious water and do that in a way that’s economic and sustainable, it really will escalate and push forward vertical farming and controlled environment industries to be more sustainable.”

Salinity said the technology could also be used outside the food sector, for example at wastewater treatment plants, where nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates need to be removed.

The trial has now finished and the results will be analysed.