There is a corner of a British field that’s dedicated to growing midi-Cos lettuces for Wetherspoon.
Kent farmer Laurence J Betts supplies Fresh Direct UK with the leaves used in Wetherspoon’s salads and has set aside the plot to make sure that it maintains quality and keeps up with demand from the pubs.
Lettuce is among various produce brought to the table by Fresh Direct UK, including tomatoes, Chantenay carrots for airport sites and, most recently, asparagus.
Fresh Direct has its roots in 1966, when John Harris and Bill Hawkins launched a greengrocer’s shop in Bicester, Oxfordshire, trading as H&H Fruiterers. It grew into a wholesaler and was renamed FreshGro, opening a 40,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse in 2001.
In 2014, backed by Bain Capital, it merged with three other fresh food businesses, M&J Seafood, Pauley’s and Wild Harvest. Nigel and Colin Harris, the sons of one of the founders, continue to play an active role.
Wetherspoon and Fresh Direct share a ‘similar ethos’, says the supplier’s head of marketing Sarah-Jane Thompson. “We both want to be best in class.
“Our love is for all things fresh. We are passionate about produce, and delivering good quality to the customer is at the heart of everything we do.”
The company sets high technical standards, and farmers face a tough approval process. Each Fresh Direct depot has its own quality-control team, fully trained to recognise defects in produce arriving at the gate – and when it leaves, too.
British farms are supported, when possible, but maintaining quality is the overriding factor, so, in the depths of winter, it will (for instance) source tomatoes from Spain.
Chefs themselves recognised First Direct in 2014, voting it their top fruit and vegetable supplier in Restaurant Magazine’s Chef’s Choice Awards.