While we are Ireland’s leading grower of baby salad leaves and herbs, there are three main reasons we cannot grow enough to ensure a year-round supply. Firstly, the seasonality of Irish fresh produce means most of our crop will only grow from April to October. Secondly, extreme weather such as excess rain or drought can impact the quantity or quality of the crop. Finally, while we cultivate more than 250ha of leaves and herbs, there is a limit to what we can grow!
To provide Irish consumers and restaurants with a consistent supply of the products they love, we have worked hard to develop a network of farm families with the same high standards as our own. More than 95% of this produce is sourced from nearby countries in Europe, with a very small proportion (mostly soft herbs) coming from further afield if we, or our European growers, struggle to produce the quality consumers demand.
All of the growers in our sustainable farm network are independently verified and regularly inspected by our team. They all have Global GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) and SEDEX certification which guarantees the highest standards of food safety, traceability and human rights.
While we are Ireland’s leading grower of baby salad leaves and herbs, there are three main reasons we cannot grow enough to ensure a year-round supply:
Seasonality – In Ireland these products are typically grown from April- October, but some have an even shorter season in our climate, like basil. We have a 1ha glasshouse that allows us to grow outside of the standard growing season, but we cannot harvest enough to fully replace imports. Collaborating with growers where climate allows for longer seasons allows us to maintain steady supply of your favourite leaves and herbs.
Weather – there are times when weather adversely affects growing conditions and can mean that we cannot prepare the fields, sow or harvest which limits our production significantly. Naturally, consumers are not aware of this impact and they still expect to find the products on supermarket shelves. So even in-season, we may not be able to grow enough produce to satisfy the demand.
Capability – despite being Ireland’s leading grower of baby salad leaves and herbs and cultivating over 250ha, there is only so much we can grow. Each year we invest in increasing our ability to grow more and being more productive, but there is still a limit to what we do. Additionally, some crops require very specific growing conditions which we cannot always replicate – although we are trialling new crops in our polytunnels all the time. Up until recently all Certified Organic spinach was imported but in 2022 we converted 10ha field into organic and now grow it ourselves.
Our farm was established in the 1980’s with one purpose in mind – import replacement. Since 2018, we have increased our production by 30% and reduced our imports by 13% which we are very proud of. but there are three main reasons we still import:
Business sustainability – if our business only sold what we can produce on our farm, we would need to let our staff go for at least 4 months of the year when our climate does not allow for us to grow. This would pose serious challenges in running a viable business and very badly effect over 100 of our fantastic colleagues and their livelihoods.
Consumer demand – consumers have become accustomed to accessing produce year-round and should we not sell the leaves and herbs they love, they will source elsewhere, potentially from less sustainable, less ethical and unvetted farms.
Quality – we have used our growing expertise to source the highest quality, most sustainably grown salad leaves and herbs from an extended family of growers in other countries. These growers share our passion and high standards allowing us to provide a consistent supply of leaves and herbs. So whether it’s January or July, you can always enjoy sustainably grown, quality produce.
We grow almost 1,000 tonnes of salad leaves and herbs each year – mostly on our farm in Kiltale, Co. Meath, but we also work with a small handful of excellent growers in our region who specialise in certain crops and supply them to us.
We are driven by a desire to reduce the volume of imported salad leaves and herbs in Ireland and so we work hard to increase our growing capacity every year.
To provide Irish consumers and restaurants with a consistent supply of the products they love however, we collaborate with an extended family of growers and social enterprises overseas who have the same high standards as our own. More than 95% of this produce is sourced from neighbouring countries in Europe (Italy, Spain, UK, Germany, France, and Scandinavia) with a very small proportion of mostly soft herbs coming from further afield (Kenya and Ethiopia) if our European growers struggle to produce the quality consumers demand.
Our ‘honest leaves’ ethos carries through our entire business, including on our packaging.
Unlike some of our competitors, we very clearly call out the ‘Country of Origin’ on all of our products in the bottom right-hand corner of our packs.
We understand that when it comes to fresh products like salad leaves and herbs, consumers assume that they come from Ireland but we are very keen to be as honest as possible by clearly identifying those products that are not produced here. Additionally, all products grown in Ireland will carry the Bord Bia Quality Mark Origin Ireland (Irish flag) clearly differentiating those grown in Ireland which can provide further reassurance to consumers.
Approximately 95% of our imported produce comes via road sea freight from Europe. However, the remaining 5% of fresh produce, specifically soft herbs, coming from African countries can only come via air freight. We recognise the obvious heavy environmental impact and so we endeavour to keep the level of imports from outside of Europe to absolute minimum.
The reality is that consumers expect to purchase their favourite herbs when they cannot be grown here and so we ensure that they are sourced well and as sustainably as possible.
We would welcome retail chains’ or government’s decision to completely ban air freight of fresh produce. In this case, consumers would have to accept that at times throughout the year, some products such as basil, chives and lemon grass will not be available.
All of the growers in our sustainable farm network are independently verified and regularly inspected by our team. They have Global GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) certification which is the most important internationally recognised legal standard that outlines framework for growing, quality of crop, food safety and traceability. It focusses on ‘chain of custody’ which describes the system, where every single pack of our herbs or salad leaves that you purchase, can be traced to the very field it was grown on, as the full journey is recorded. It adds trust and total transparency to the product.
When it comes to any products we import, food safety is extremely important to us and something which we monitor really closely. This allows us to provide reassurance to our retail partners that the products are high quality and safe to eat.
Our growers all also have SEDEX certification and registration. This platform gives us reassurance that our suppliers comply with the EU regulation in relation to the working hours, equal pay for employees, human rights and prevents modern slavery, which can have a big impact over the final product and can link to malicious contamination of the product supply.
We are in regular contact with our network of growers, we learn from each other not only on how to grow better, but also in the areas of social sustainability, energy saving, increasing productivity and much more. We foster knowledge transfer and encourage our suppliers to drive the positive impact their farming enterprises make on local community and the environment, just like we do here on our farm.
We understand that it is best to grow our own food and some salads and herbs are easy to grow at home. If this is not possible, buying produce which has been grown locally from a farmer is certainly the next best option. However, in reality most of the shopping we do is in supermarket and this is where we come in, making sure that there is a steady supply of sustainably produced high quality herbs and leaves available all year round.
There is a huge difference between growing a pot of herb or a small patch of salad leaves at home and growing it commercially. As commercial growers, we make a promise to our customers – retail stores, chefs, caterers – that we will provide consistent and continuous supply throughout the year.
So while it might be possible to grow a certain plant in bad weather at a small scale, it may not be possible to harvest for example 2 tonnes of it every week. This means that our season is naturally shorter.
We also make another promise to our customers to only supply excellent quality produce. So if Ireland has a period of bad weather which affects the quality of produce – we need to reach out to our network of growers to source the quality we need and in the volume Irish consumers require. It is our policy to always source as close to home as possible, but at times and for certain products we may need to go further afield.
One of those herbs is basil. It will grow well on a sunny windowsill, it will survive a long time if cared for properly, but we are only able grow it commercially for the warmest few months in a year to guarantee the quality and consistency.
We are driven by a desire to reduce the volume of imported salad leaves and herbs in Ireland. Since 2018, we have replaced almost 30% of previously imported produce but the reality is, we still must rely on some imports to meet demand.
We grow close to 1,000 tonnes of salad leaves and herbs per annum for sale on the Irish market and we are increasing our capacity every year. We are always trialling new crops in our glasshouses and polytunnels to see if we can get the conditions right to grow some of the produce that we currently must import.
Our most significant progress in recent years has been with herbs. We now grow over 100 tonnes of herbs every year, which is an increase of over 80% from pre-pandemic levels.
Up until 2022, all Certified Organic spinach was imported into Ireland but over several years, we converted a 10ha field into organic and now grow Certified Organic spinach ourselves when it is in season.
Meet some members of our family farm network
Toroverde, Murcia, Spain
Toroverde is a specialty lettuce and baby leaf grower based in the based in Murcia region in southern Spain.
Södervidinge Gård, Sweden
Södervidinge Gård grows salad leaves and its farm in southern Sweden has been owned and operated by the Nordmark family for five generations.
Jagannath Growers, Kenya
Jagannath Growers is a farm located in Kiritiri, Embu County, Kenya which grows fresh herbs for the EU market while supporting impoverished families in Kenya.