The future of food is in our hands. Our mission is to make radically seasonal produce a significant part of how we all eat. In doing so, we will replace a broken food system with a much more sustainable model that reflects the real cost of farming, protects the land from soil depletion, and in return gives us crops with incredible flavour and a greater nutritional value.
From protecting biodiversity through the seasonal plant varieties we choose to grow, to actively reducing food waste, we encourage sustainable practices across the entirety of the supply chain. The unique way in which we source our produce protects traditional growing practices in danger of being eliminated by high-yield intensive commercial farming. More than just a supplier, we actively support small-scale growers who are committed to their land and their craft.
We also work hard to educate our end-customers - whether they be Michelin-starred chefs or less experienced home cooks - in order to create a greater appreciation of the work that goes into growing exceptional produce. We aim to develop a much deeper understanding of seasonality and a sense of responsibility towards our food system and the planet. We should not underestimate the impact we can all have on the supply chain through how we choose to cook and eat.
Biodiversity is of vital importance to our food system, which is threatened by the commercial demand for constant, uniform quantity over quality and flavour. Growers are often forced to favour aggressive monocultures, seed hybridisation and excessive intervention, to create the illusion of year-round availability. We actively seek out growers producing incredible varieties that can’t be found in the mainstream, such as Francesco and his variety of Datterini tomatoes, which was being pushed out by commercial varieties bred to stay on the vine at the expense of flavour.
Many of our growers are working with seeds perfected over generations of farmers growing on the same land: Martin’s Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Robert Tomlinson’s prewar Rhubarb crowns and Raffaele's Bull’s Heart Tomatoes. Seed selection recognises that the soil is a living, dynamic ecosystem. A seed which has been selected from the best performing plant of the season, fully adapted to the local soil, climate and the producer’s growing ethos.
We look beyond organic certification, which only tells us what a farmer has not done to their crops. We want to know more: how the singularities of their growing methods have produced a crop unique to their land and in balance with the environment. Their growing methods allow the plant to fulfil its natural potential, without the use of pesticides or industrial fertilisers. At the core of their practice is regenerative agriculture: the rebuilding of soil fertility, protection of biodiversity and restoration of ecosystem health through the preservation of heritage varieties, seed selection and minimum intervention in the soil.
We source locally where relevant to the produce but our commitment to flavour, varietal diversity and sustainable growing methods comes first. We’re not tied to local because we want to revolutionise the supply chain on a global scale. Certain heritage varieties are in danger of extinction today because they have no reach beyond local markets and we believe that maintaining the biodiversity of our plant life is the first and most important step towards creating a scalable, sustainable food system.
SUPPORTING SUSTAINABLE FARMING
We are supporting individuals and growing collectives across Europe, from Cornwall in the UK to the southernmost tip of Italy. We build the necessary infrastructure for small-scale growers to supply their produce at a higher volume without the need to compromise on the craftsmanship of their growing methods. We give them the support they need so that they do not need to sacrifice sustainability, flavour or transparency in order to compete with industrial practices.
In Cornwall, we have collaborated with Sean O’Neill to create Good Earth Growers, a farming project that brings together a community of incredible people who grow outstanding produce in untreated, naturally fertilised soil. We provide the necessary financial support, advice and logistical expertise to this community of small farmers so that together they can keep growing sustainably and seasonally. This enables high quality, radically seasonal Cornish produce – ranging from micro greens, kales and chards, soft fruit to baby vegetables – to reach the London market via our supply chain.
In 2018 we offered financial support for an additional forcing tunnel to one of Italy’s last growers of sand-forced radicchio, bringing a near-extinct product back into the mainstream. Without our help, this culturally unique method of growing might be lost, overtaken by the commercial production of flavourless but high-yielding varieties.
Meanwhile over in Sicily, Francesco has acquired 10,000 square meters of land, obtained global GAP certification and taken on 15 staff to increase his production of datterini. We have invested in his land so that he can now grow this incredible tomato exclusively for Natoora.
We also encourage our growers to come together and exchange seeds and techniques. One of our Lombardy growers is trialling a method of forcing his Cicoria to grow a White Dandelion for us, applying a French technique to a local Italian crop. Good Earth Growers are growing Trombetta courgettes using seeds and expertise (in particular the Trellis-growing technique, which is highly skilled and rarely found) gleaned from our Italian growers.
These projects demonstrate that small scale growers of radically seasonal produce can compete with industrial methods of growing. We believe these accessible farming models can lead to a dramatic shift in our supply chain and in people’s expectations of produce.
FUELING CHANGE IN OTHERS
Ours is a people’s revolution. Our Education department gives both our staff and customers the tools they need to make informed decisions that will result in a better food system. In putting radically seasonal produce back into the supply chain, our aim is to raise a demand for better flavour and more transparency. By helping people understand that their food choices have a dramatic impact on how produce is grown and supplied, we can create a more sustainable supply chain that does not distort nature but works alongside it.
Our education starts internally. We host a company-wide weekly session focusing on seasonal produce. We also meet quarterly as a company for Seasonal Sessions, in which specialised products or growing techniques are brought to life through discussions with our growers, tastings of our produce and guided group activities. Our Education team have developed an interactive course for our retail team to improve their knowledge and understanding of growers, their techniques and the singularities of their produce. It enables our staff to actively engage our customers in our revolution, to outline the changes we’re making and how each customer’s choices can have an impact on the food chain.
Externally, our stores are a platform to run seasonal educational campaigns that explore little-known or misunderstood produce, adjusting our customers’ expectations of fruit & vegetables and actively encouraging them to shop more seasonally. We are developing a programme of talks and workshops that will help them further their knowledge and get more comfortable with cooking seasonally. In sharing simple methods that can apply to groups of similar varietals, we will decrease their reliance on year-round staples and fixed recipes, leading to a more diverse diet that can adapt with the seasons.
REDUCING FOOD WASTE
We are determined to prevent food waste from going to landfill. Our policy is to receive only the very best produce, in quantities which we are confident we will use. With deliveries coming every day, we respond daily to demand, rather than buying in bulk. This avoids any unnecessary waste.
Our bespoke supply chain has the sustainability of our produce at its core. From how it is sourced to how it is transported and managed in our warehouse, all our produce is handled with precision and expert care. We go to great lengths to ensure we handle ripe fruit minimally and control quality in our produce at every stage of its journey.
For any produce that is left over we work with two partners to help eliminate any further waste.
THE FELIX PROJECT
The Felix Project collects remaining produce and delivers this surplus food to 198 charities across London so that they can provide healthy meals and help the most vulnerable in our society. Since 2016, we have donated in excess of 105,000kg of fresh produce to them and we continue to do so twice a week.
REFOOD & BYWATERS
It has been estimated that by 2020, the UK’s landfill sites will be full. ReFood operate a closed loop solution which converts food waste otherwise destined for landfill, into renewable energy. They collect any food waste that is not suitable for consumption from us three times a week and take it to their state of the art plant in Dagenham. Through anaerobic digestion technology it is then turned into renewable energy and bio fertiliser.
We are also proud to be supporting ReFood’s Vision 2020 – a campaign to stop sending any food waste to landfill by 2020, outlining the steps that the industry needs to take for the UK to be in a position to recycle all the food waste generated each year.
To process our non-food waste we work with Bywaters, a company who share our policy of sending nothing to landfill. Our operations team undergoes waste management training with Bywaters to optimise waste segregation. Between June 2017 and June 2018 we have seen an increase of 32% in our recycling. In that time we also invested in the lease of a cardboard compactor to reduce the number of collections needed and thereby our carbon footprint. Our mixed recycling is compacted and sent on for reprocessing, while any general waste is processed into renewable energy at an Energy from Waste plant.
REMOVING PLASTIC FROM THE SUPPLY CHAIN
Sustainability of the supply chain is at the forefront of our mission at Natoora.
In our own stores, fruit and vegetables are held in humidity-controlled displays specifically designed to keep it at its best. We sell it loose rather than pre-packed and encourage our customers to bring their own bags.
In our warehouse we repurpose all wooden crates that come in from our suppliers, using them to send out our deliveries to restaurants and to our stores. We aim to remove all plastic from our wholesale packaging by the end of 2018.
When we work with partners such as Whole Foods, Waitrose and Ocado, we don’t have the same control over handling. We take the necessary steps to ensure the produce reaches you in the same condition in which it leaves the growers and in some cases that means using additional packaging.
Biodegradable packaging made from sustainable materials is very much part of our vision of Natoora's future and we are currently testing various alternatives to plastic, such as starch bags and home compostable punnets. We aim to remove all plastic from our retail channels by the end of 2019.