Managing director Rob Hurren began his life in the trade when he was just 10, when he helped his grandad and uncle on their Fulham fruit stall. When he was 12, Rob would cycle from Kingston to Fulham to help set up the stall and then wait for the lorry, full to the brim with fruit purchased from New Covent Garden Market (NCGM) that morning.
He met NCGM veteran and family friend Peter May when he was 20 and Peter taught him all he needed to know about the industry and the complexities of buying. In 2005, Rob and Peter started County Supplies London together and although Peter sadly passed away in 2018, his presence remains in everything the business does. Several of Rob’s immediate family make up a management team who all have at least 10 years in the business and he now runs a 45-strong multinational team that speaks 15 languages and has decades of experience in picking, packing and delivering produce.
County Supplies shiny fleet of classily branded vans serves London’s top restaurants and prestigious kitchens with more than 2,000 kinds of fruits, vegetables, dairy, prepared, frozen, puree and dry foods. To meet its customer’s year-round needs, it sources product from around the world, but is particularly proud of its wide and varied British products.
“We love British produce, there is nothing quite like a fresh British strawberry or a juicy English plum,” Rob says. “We try to work with the best British growers, as we know that we’re only as good as the produce we sell. Our aim is always to source the best local produce and at the same time, keep our food miles low.
“We have a number of long term-partners, ranging from independent growers like Watkins Farm in Lancashire to larger growers such as Portwood Farm in Norfolk, which supplies us with its fabulous branded Portwood Asparagus. We love taking chefs to meet the farmer to learn more about how the produce is grown, but that’s been difficult over the last 18 months. Hopefully we’ll be able to start arranging farm visits again soon.”
This summer, County Supplies formed a new partnership with Fiveways Farm, a family-owned Essex fruit farm established in the 1930s. “Their strawberries this year were absolutely delicious, some of the best we’ve ever tasted,” Rob says, “and they came in composite packaging, which our customers really valued. We hand-picked and packed over 3,000 punnets for one of our biggest corporate customers, so they could celebrate Wimbledon at their desks!”
Rob’s younger brother Ollie is the company’s head buyer. He’s watched the attitude to British fresh produce evolve during his time at NCGM. “The market for fresh produce in the UK has undergone substantial change over the past two decades,” Ollie says. “We’ve broadened our palette to eat a wider variety of fresh produce and we all give more thought to the origin of the food we’re eating and its carbon footprint. We want to know here our food comes from, and how it’s grown. We care much more about what we’re putting in our mouths and the impact we’re having on the people who grow it and the environment.
“Our customers have become much more responsive and are always looking for best quality and freshest produce,” he adds. “There really is nothing better when British produce is fresh and in season. If you bought it from us, the cauliflower on your plate today was more than likely in the ground less than 24 hours ago.”
Customer demand is a big driver, of course, but the desire to do the right thing comes from within, says Rob. “At County Supplies, we’re keen to do our part to protect the planet. We’re proud of our accreditations and we try to work with people who live up to high standards of sustainable farming. To combat waste, we help customers and advise kitchens on how to reduce the amount of packaging they use – trying recyclable brown bags, returnable crates. We also pick up any recyclable waste and take it back to the full-onsite recycling facility at NCGM. Being located in central London means that we can support a wide range of businesses, keeping our own miles low and creating a centre of excellence.
“We are constantly reviewing packaging and our own sustainability policies to enable us to deliver the best fresh produce in a sustainable way. We actually have a partnership with Waste Knot* to supply delicious fruit and veg, which wouldn’t otherwise be eaten or supplied to the catering industry. Due to strict cosmetic standards and oversupply, there is a large proportion of fresh produce, which finds itself destined for landfill or is simply left to rot in the fields.
“We all need to reduce food waste. By partnering with Waste Knot, County Supplies continues to supply the very best produce, whilst encouraging our customers to use more sustainable ingredients.”
To find a wholesaler to suit your requirements at New Covent Garden Market, click here.
*Waste Knot works to ensure that as many surplus vegetables as possible picked from British farmers’ fields find their way into chefs’ kitchens.
This article was written for The Source, the newsletter of British Food Fortnight organiser Love British Food.