Anna Elliot – Food As It Should Be
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos supplied by RAW Food & Drink PR
Did you know that, by 2020, the UK organic food and drink market will be worth £2.5 billion? Also, did you know that the organic food and drink market has grown around 5% year-on-year for the last eight years running? And, did you know that, by a country mile, the fastest growing channel within the organic food and drink market is Home Delivery at a whopping 14.2% year-on-year growth? That’s ok…neither did I. That is, until recently when I met Anna Elliot, Sales & Marketing Director of family-owned Eversfield Organic, based in Bratton Clovelly, near Tavistock.
Eversfield Organic is an award-winning organic food business based on Ellacott, a farm nestled on the edge of Dartmoor near the beautiful market town of Tavistock. Founded in 2002 by Mark Bury, Eversfield have moved from start-up, to scale-up and have now established themselves as one of the leading producers and providers of organic produce in the UK. Theirs is truly one of the great success stories of the Devonian, regional and national business worlds.
Anna told me how her father Mark had grown up in a family with military parents, so attended boarding school from the age of seven. As a result, many of his friends lived near the Brecon Beacons and he would wangle weekend trips to stay with them on their family farms. This was where Mark’s dream to one day own a farm was born.
Fast-forward to 2002 and Mark had settled in Surrey, had two children and cemented a successful career, developing software mainly for doctors surgeries which digitalised medical records. After years spent in the industry, he decided that the time was right to sell his business and realise his life-long dream that he had carried with him since childhood.
So, he did his research and finally settled on Ellacott, purchasing the farm. Mark’s clear desire was to establish a working organic farm, treating animals and the land that they lived on with the care and compassion that he felt they deserved. Mark knew that he was vehemently against the use of pesticides and fertiliser and believed that food and the soil that it was grown in should be protected in their natural state, unaffected by chemical intervention. Anna commented,
“Soil care is vital as everything starts with the soil. If you don’t look after the soil, then everything else above it goes wrong.”
The farm had been worked incredibly hard and was in need of some back-breaking work in order to restore it to organic standards. So, Mark went about the difficult conversion process of turning it into a certified organic farm. Anna explained,
“We began with the restoration of the traditional landscape of the farm – replanting orchards, re-establishing hedgerows, clearing the woods of scrubby undergrowth and planting 30,000 trees to restore the land to its natural state. Once the culm grassland and lowland hay meadows returned to their natural state, we got to work building our state-of-the-art butchering facilities, a fully EU licensed butchery on the farm.”
It was particularly interesting to hear that Mark had never intended for the farm or the business to grow as large as it has today. Originally, his intention was to farm a few acres with a desire to produce great quality organic food for close friends and family. They turned over £40,000 in their first year of trading (2004) and it quickly became clear that there was a wider appetite, both in terms of volume and geography. Achieving 300% growth year-on-year for the first few years, they have gone from turning over £40,000 in their first trading year to turning over £4 million in the most recent full tax year. A pretty impressive growth rate I’m sure you’d agree!
An important part of this journey was the business becoming a family affair when, in 2011, Mark’s children Anna and Hamish formally joined the business. Anna had already been helping out during term breaks and holidays at University (where she was studying towards a Marketing Management degree) and Hamish temporarily took over steering the ship whilst Anna finished her studies and Mark finished some key projects back in London and Manchester. Their formal full-time coming together in 2011 marked the beginning of great things to come.
Anna, now Sales & Marketing Director and Hamish, Business Development Director have been instrumental in the growth story of the business and have both benefitted from performing just about every role within the business as the team and company have grown. Anna even told me about a two-week stint that she put in at the abattoir! She has literally been involved in the full life-span of the animals that they farm – birth, rearing, finishing, slaughter, meat production, packing and delivery. Pretty impressive!
Key to Anna agreeing to join the business was her straight-forward demand that they overhaul their ecommerce site, which they promptly did. This proved to be not only an educated request but a valuable one as this has become the primary route to market for the numerous organic products that Eversfield Organic sell. Moreover, it has become a vital part of their future plans to open Farm Shop Delis around the UK, bringing together the tangibility of in-store shopping and the convenience of internet shopping in one ‘omnichannel’ retail offer. The first of these store openings is in nearby Tavistock – a project which Hamish has been running. Already a great success, the ever-ambitious Eversfield crew have their eyes set on further store openings around the UK in the coming months and years. Exciting times!
Tied into these plans are a desire and commitment from Eversfield to also implement local delivery networks, meaning that Eversfield produce can be supplied by Eversfield delivery drivers locally, alongside their National routes via DPD van drivers. This attention to detail and level of excellence is one of the many things that impressed me about the Eversfield operation during my visit to Ellacott.
When I asked Anna about how Eversfield had built up such impressive momentum as a business, she told me how they have placed a massive focus on their network of growers and producers. They work with thirty-five other farmers in the South West, buying a wide range of organic produce direct from them. All of these partners have to be certified with a recognised certification body – primarily The Soil Association or Organic Farmers and Growers. They then have to follow internal Eversfield criteria – for example, slowly finishing the animal, not bulk-feeding them with grains and cereals.
“We have to develop really good relationships with the farmers that we work with as they are crucial for our business. They are passionate about selling their animals to us because they know that we value the same things as them. They are farming their animals based on ethics, quality and keeping things as natural and organic as possible whereas the mass supermarket farms pump their animals full of grain to fatten them up, create the largest animal possible, leading to the largest cuts of meat possible and, therefore, the highest profit margins possible. It is just a totally different approach to farming. At Eversfield, we are all about nose-to-tail butchery. This means that we include all of the slow-cooking cuts and we take a holistic and ethical approach to the carcass”
Anna summarised the incredible Eversfield journey by echoing the words of her father Mark, saying,
“We are proud to bring a taste of Devon and the South West farms to kitchen tables country-wide. It was our dream to produce the best quality organic meat, from the happiest of animals and make it available to everyone. And we’re doing it!”
To find out more about Eversfield Organic, visit their website or follow @eversfieldorg on Twitter.