26 October 2022
Chris celebrates four decades of change at Branston
FROM scaring pigeons in the pea fields, to packing sacks of potatoes for distribution and supervising the factory floor, long-term employee Chris Taylor has worked for leading potato supplier, Branston, for almost four decades. He knows the ins and outs of the business better than anyone and discusses how his career has evolved in that time and how the food production industry has transformed over the years.
Tell us about your early working life
I started working part-time for a local farmer and he told me they needed a pigeon scarer at Branston. So, I joined Branston Produce as it was called back then in 1983, more or less as a human scarecrow. That involved trying to keep the pea crops safe from flocks of birds. Gradually I moved into driving the pea viners and combine harvesters during the summer, and in winter I would pack the 25kg bags of potatoes ready for market.
It was tough, manual work.
Seven years later I was encouraged to start working in the factory as a supervisor. I worked as supervisor for several years then took a sidestep into looking after the fuel management at the factory. Managing our fuel resources has become a core focus of our environment, social and governance (ESG) strategy. All our HGV drivers now undergo additional training on how to improve fuel efficiency and following a successful trial, our fleet will have the refrigeration units switched off during the cooler months when they’re not needed.
Why have you stayed at Branston for so long?
I think I’ve stayed because of the mutual trust and respect I have with the Branston team. They’ve always been very honest. I’ve been at Branston for just over half of my life and if I had the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t do anything different.
In the early days, I worked across every department Branston had, from engineering to the agronomy side of things. There’s nothing I haven’t done and that’s why I’ve never been bored.
I've lived the dream, and while I’m going down to a more part-time role, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to fully retire.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the sector over the years you’ve worked at Branston?
The machinery has developed hugely since I started. All the processes on the production line used to be manual, now an automated machine will pack and load the stock for distribution and monitor the status of every potato from arrival to departure.
Technology at Branston is constantly in the limelight, and the focus on sustainability and strong farming practises that reduce waste are more important than ever to both the end retailer, its consumers and our staff. We’re aiming to achieve Net Zero within our supply chain by 2030, and as part of this our teams have recently pitched and won investment across an array of expansion areas from soil management, storage and transport right through to developing a unique fertiliser out of by-product potato pulp, which will reduce in-the-field fertiliser outputs by up to 80%. We’ve also installed solar panels on our factory roofs and electric vehicle charging points at all sites, our environmental team has even championed legislation changes in the industry to help consumers better store their potatoes.
In partnership with other institutions, such as B-hive Innovations, we’re trailing different approaches to reducing our carbon output, with a goal of long-term sustainability within the potato industry in the UK. Data and analytical insights are at the heart of all these developments, and it has been exciting to see the shift in not only how consumers wish to receive their potatoes, but also the changes to variety and enormous improvements made to our production and emissions outputs.
There have been changes in every aspect, even the working patterns. Hybrid working wasn’t a thing back when I first started, but it’s the norm now.
What does the future hold for Branston?
We’re always expanding, we’ve recently advertised for 45 new factory roles and have plans for a new facility in Lincolnshire focusing on turning waste products from the production process into a vegan protein product. We’ve seen a huge shift in the consumer demand for sustainable plant-based proteins, as shoppers experiment with vegetarian and vegan diets and want more eco-friendly alternatives to everyday meat products.
Our work on developing new potato varieties will no doubt continue to grow, building on the success of our ‘Nemo’ variety, which makes delicious crispy roasties in just 35 minutes. Our experts are constantly looking for ways to create new varieties which not only taste amazing, but require less water, fertiliser and cooking time.
Branston also wants to continue being a business that has a positive impact in the local community. We donate roughly just over a tonne of potatoes a month to various charities and local initiatives around Lincolnshire. Recently for example, we donated produce to support local families in the area over the summer holidays who would normally take advantage of free school meals. We also go litter picking in the local village as a team to keep it nice and tidy. It’s so important to get involved and develop those relationships with the people around us.
What was the most valuable thing you learned in your time at Branston and what’s your proudest achievement?
The biggest thing I've learned is to appreciate what you have. I value the freedom this job has given me — they trust me to do what I need to. I know my routine, and everything just flows from there.
Back in the early days, I used to interview people for jobs at the factory. There are still one or two of those people working for us to this day. One of the gentlemen I interviewed left recently and said he’d never met someone so dedicated to their job. That made me feel proud, because I genuinely love what I do.
Any advice for someone setting out on their first job in food production?
Listen to the people that have worked there the longest. They’ll know all the ins and outs of the company and how everything runs. Finally, the most important thing in a job is to enjoy it and to be happy. If you’re not happy, you might as well just call it a day because you can’t put 100% into your work if you’re not happy.