By Lesley Moore, HR Director, Alomora Group – providing management services to Partner Companies Wellpak, Ackio and Elision
Wellpak has been in business for 20 years today. It’s a proud moment, and it’s also a great opportunity to draw attention to our history and how we’ve been successful—we’ve learnt a lot over the years!
Wellpak started in a shed, our first pack house. We had one fridge, a client base consisting solely of wholesale customers and only a handful of staff. One of that handful is Janice Lamburn, who started in the ‘90s as an Office Junior and is now a Senior Administrator.
“I have fond memories of our shed, all five of us working away,” she tells me. “I remember invoicing for our first £100,000 in sales. We were ecstatic.”
That’s when we left our shed behind and moved to a purpose built site at the Vale Business Park.
“We had carpets, heating and toilets – lovely!” quips Viv Spencer, Business Unit Manager for Finance in a remark that says just humble our beginnings were.
In the years that followed, Wellpak grew. We welcomed new staff, expanded to fill several sites and built relationships with fresh produce suppliers all over the world, extending our product range in the process.
Then, in 2010, the game changed. Responding to changes in the fresh produce market, the management team saw a new way to manage business. They developed and began to implement the strategy we've been pursuing ever since. The ‘Service Ecosystem’ was born.
Put simply, it’s a set of independent and individually branded businesses, or ‘Partner Companies’, all targeted towards a specific part of the fresh produce market—their own area of opportunity. By design, they can also be combined and configured to provide a unified service to clients. It was a visionary idea and one that, to this day, is a key point of difference between us and our competitors.
The first of the Partner Companies was BoxOn. That was a dedicated packing service for a major retailer to support a strategic move. It was also a milestone. The Alomora Group was formed to provide management support to all the Partner Companies. Ackio, a specialist and highly automated contract packer, followed in 2011.
Jurgita Koena joined Ackio to monitor quality control on the packing line. She’s since progressed to planning.
“I remember the day we opened with a state of the art blueberry machine,” she says. “It was the first of its kind. We’ve now configured it to pack different sorts of produce, for example we now pack snack pots of berries and cherry tomatoes.”
The next few years saw the launch of more product categories, including grapes, exotic fruit and cherries, and several new services to supply multiple retailers. But expansion and diversification came at a pace.
“We essentially went from 0-100 miles per hour,” says Molly Beasley, Technical Manager for Ackio, who’s been with us for 18 years. “To think we used to pack and label everything by hand, all under one roof. Business has boomed over the years. We started out such a small group and now we have over 130 staff, and that can double in peak seasons.”
Despite our growing size, we remain a close team, as Jurgita describes: ‘We’re like a big family who support each other and work together. What I like most is there are always opportunities to progress. If you’re interested in something, managers will always give you a chance to try it and support you along the way.’
Looking to the future, we’ll continue to move with the times, invest in new technologies, extend our product range and, of course, keep our wonderful staff and welcome new ones, like Mike Hargreaves who recently joined us as a senior business analyst.
When I asked him why he chose us, he said: “I jumped at the chance to work with people who have vision. The industry is constantly evolving and needs people to move quickly with it. Having previously supported large organisations and teams, there’s no place to hide here. I’m challenged on a daily basis and thoroughly enjoy supporting ideas that are developed into solutions. It’s a decisive environment.”
Like the fresh produce sector, decisive environments don’t stand still. This year alone we’ve launched a new salads division and formed another partner company: Elision, a specialist contract packer. It’s just doubled its floorspace and will lead to 30 new jobs as business ramps up over the coming months.
Nothing here stands still, and we like that. It keeps us on our toes.
Lesley joined Wellpak as Human Resources Manager in 2008 and transferred to Partner Company, Alomora Group in 2010. She is also a Director of Wellpak.