For Southern Salads, the right lettuce starts with the right seed.
The company, based in Tonbridge, Kent, has supplied Wetherspoon with salads and other vegetables for the last 15 years and goes to extraordinary lengths to deliver just what pub customers need.
Three years ago, for instance, it selected a midi-Cos lettuce seed which would reach the perfect height for producing exactly the leaf size demanded by a Wetherspoon salad. It keeps a careful eye on them as they’re grown and hand-harvested, before washing and cutting them to specification, ready for the pubs’ kitchens.
The painstaking process is testament to the passion you find in a family business like Southern Salads. The company was founded in 1986 by Ray Boakes, a fruit and veg salesman at London’s Old Spitalfields Market who saw an opportunity to launch a business which could supply fast-food restaurants with prepared salads.
Today, he’s still CEO and three generations of Boakes are among the 230 staff, including son Andrew, who is managing director.
“Being a family business means that we have total trust in one another, absolute loyalty and a passion which flows through to the whole workforce,” he said. “You can’t do anything without the right people.”
The Boakes are proud Kentish folk, and most of their produce comes from the county known as the Garden of England. In winter, supplies switch to Spain, but the same rules apply – farmers must adhere to strict controls on crop production and protection, to limit the impact on the environment.
And Southern Salads itself achieved zero waste to landfill in 2013 and works to reduce its energy and water usage.