An international office network coupled with a growing galaxy of brands are enabling Shropshire-based Jupiter Marketing to meet increasing demand from a wide range of produce buyers
It started with a holiday job on a lettuce farm. A few years later, back at the same farm in a borrowed office, Mark Tweddle set up a company that from “a blank sheet of paper and a telephone”, now has a £60 million turnover.
In the last 12 years Jupiter Marketing, with Tweddle at the helm as managing director, has been one of the UK’s fastest growing fresh produce businesses with its base in Newport, Shropshire, and an international operation that includes offices in Chile, South Africa, Greece, Dubai, India and Kuala Lumpur.
And all this from a now 37-year-old MD whose background was in livestock. “I was brought up on a livestock farm adjacent to Uttoxeter racecourse,” says Tweddle, “but I turned my attention to produce after a job I did on my first holiday when I was a student at Harper Adams College.
“I spotted an advert on the college notice board for a part-time tractor driver at a lettuce farm, and when I got there I was not only given that job but told I was also the farm’s sales manager – because the one they had was leaving that week!
“I took both jobs on and enjoyed my 15 weeks there so much that I went back to college and told them that for my year out I’d like it to be in a produce company.”
Tweddle duly spent his year out at Univeg and then, on leaving college, he joined the Birmingham-based supplier Minor Weir and Willis.
His career path took its fateful turn when, along with his now wife and fellow Harper Adams graduate Yvonne, he attended a wedding whose venue in Newport was close to the aforementioned lettuce farm.
“During the wedding weekend,” says Tweddle, “we popped in to see the farm owner, Phillip Maddocks, and he mentioned that he was looking for someone to develop products outside his lettuce business.
“That someone became me, and although the lettuce business and the side I was running became separate entities in 2003, Phillip is still my business partner.”
Tweddle had global aspirations for his business but perhaps not the best idea for its name – as was pointed out by Mrs Tweddle, who is now the company’s head of marketing and credit control after previously working at Unigate Dairies, Baxter’s Soups and the Meat & Livestock Commission.
“I wanted to call it ‘Top Mark’,” he admits, but Yvonne said, ‘that’s not very good thinking if you want to be an international company’. She was right.
“So we went for Jupiter, which works well internationally because the word is pronounced exactly the same in every country in the world.
“We started in Phillip’s office with a blank sheet of paper and a telephone, originally working as a fruit importer but then adding vegetables and salads.
“We eventually moved six miles up the road to our current premises, which we’ve expanded over the years to 85,000ft2 and which now includes five cold stores for the 80 product lines we carry.”
Home and away
Sourcing from all around the world and selling increasingly into international markets, Jupiter’s expansion has been rapid but controlled.
Mark Tweddle explains: “As well as increasing our product lines we’ve always aimed to spread risk, and that’s worked well for us.
“We’ve never wanted any customer to represent more that 10% of our turnover, which we’ve achieved, and we supply across the retail, wholesale, processing, catering and category management sectors – the whole basket.
“We’ve developed quite widely abroad and that’s also been done with risk as well as growth in mind. Some of the offices work purely in procurement, although in Chile we’ve also got our own farms that do their own harvesting and packing.
“Our office in India handles imports into that country but also looks after the export of grapes grown over there. Our operation in Dubai handles sales into the Middle East and in Kuala Lumpur our office sells into the Far East.”
Jupiter’s expansion has included the introduction of its Leda Elite and Elara Gold brands, which the company is promoting in UK and international markets.
Tweddle says: “We are trying in the UK and abroad to enhance the Leda Elite brand, which is a premium product to the Waitrose/Marks & Spencer spec that’s specifically packed for the wholesale sector and catering industry.
“We certainly see an opportunity in Europe and the Far East, but the Middle East is a lot more competitive as it’s price-driven rather than premium quality-driven.
“The Elara Gold range is a good quality spec that we’ve introduced as a brand into the smaller retail area, offering a competitive pack as it’s a product that we’re providing for a large number of customers.”
Jupiter aligns with London
Jupiter will be displaying its Elara Gold range at June’s London Produce Show and Conference after successfully highlighting Leda Elite at last year’s inaugural trade fair.
“Last year was very good for us,” says Tweddle. “We didn’t know what to expect as it was the first London show, but it had more people – and a wider variety of people – than we expected and it was very useful to meet and speak with a good number of our customers.
“We also met representatives of the Dubai-based LuLu Hypermarket chain and we’ve been dealing with them ever since – they wanted to get more English produce into their stores because of the amount of British consumers over there.
“They had opened up a business in Birmingham and we’ve been supplying into those premises for them to air-freight our product out to Dubai.
“Hopefully more opportunities might come up this year. We’ll be showing our Elara Gold pre-pack offering, which is a full-range solution from potatoes and grapes to bananas, and all packed in one specific format.”
Charity begins at Jupiter
Jupiter prides itself not only on its business practices but also the charity work the company undertakes via the Nancy Tweddle Foundation, named after the managing director’s grandmother and administered by his father Norman.
Mark Tweddle says: “We set up the foundation four years ago and use it to support our suppliers, most of whom are in third world countries, and charities that are local to our company headquarters in Newport.
“Locally we’ve supported churches, choirs, sports teams – we even sponsored a friend of a long-serving member of staff to drive a steam engine from Newport to London in aid of Macmillan Nurses.
“Projects we’ve been involved with abroad include installing a computer room at a girls school in India. The school, which has to be funded by charitable donations, had only got four computers between 500 pupils.
“The lab which we set up and was opened last November has got 36 computers, all working through a central server, and which as well as being for the use of pupils are being used outside school hours to train parents.
“We also recently helped a township football club in South Africa. Over 200 children played there, but it was literally jumpers for goalposts.
“We provided them with kit – and goalposts! And every child was given a rucksack that contained our mission statement, a belief in team spirit and ethics that underpins our company and led us to set up the Foundation.”