Wyke Farm has a ‘100% green’ strategy to be one of the ‘greenest brands in grocery’. What has driven it to go down this route?
100% Green is about making the business fit for the future by managing the resources that we use in the most efficient way possible. We realised that by focusing on cost-cutting and lean manufacture-type models, the effect was a reduction in our environmental impact. By turning the process on its head and thinking ‘how can we be more green and sustainable’, it has unlocked more savings.
It is good for the Wyke Farms brand because shoppers are increasingly driven to greener products – a panel of 30,000 shoppers found that 90% of them care about being green. The core drivers for the project are efficiency, cost reduction and the environment, which all benefit together from this approach. Greener does not need to be more expensive – quite the opposite.
The strategy has involved some significant investment. How were the funds raised for this? Were there any challenges?
The project has cost in the region of £10m. We have had good support from our bank, Barclays, which have put up funds alongside the Wyke shareholders. There have been challenges along the way. Some of the parts are relatively new technology, for example, and getting the investors, particularly the risk teams, in the right space has taken some doing.
The farm has been operating since 1861. How has this strategy changed the way it thinks and operates?
I think it is an extension to the way that we farm the land here. This region is our home, it provides our income and our food. A desire to preserve it for future generations is natural. Wyke’s 100% Green strategy fits into that longer term multi-generational view of things and the decisions that we make.
What effect do you expect this move to have on the brand and on sales? What impact has it had so far?
We were recently voted Green Supplier of the Year by The Grocer magazine. It has been fantastic for our brand profile, and shoppers really understand and buy into these green values. It cements our point of difference in the category.
One specific goal is for the farm to produce all its own electricity and gas from renewable sources. How did it go about choosing the solutions for this and did it encounter any challenges along the way?
We looked at the natural assets of the business first. We have an abundance of south-facing roofs, which we used for our solar panel PV project. For anaerobic digestion (AD), we have a strong supply of organic waste, both from our farm and factory, and we have 1,500 acres of land on which to spread the digestate. We also have 150 farmer milk suppliers who have the same natural assets.
With any green energy project, we think that ‘natural fit’ is the most important thing. Going green is not about shoehorning 100MW solar into prime agricultural land or about an AD plant on a business park with waste hauled in and out across miles – the fit needs to be better than that and the general public would expect it to be so.
The challenges to getting going are the usual things: the endless Environment Agency (EA) form-filling and bureaucracy, planning issues and grid supplies for power and gas.
Minimising packaging waste is another mission statement. How is the farm doing this and what benefits has it seen so far?
By redesigning our packaging and investing in new wraparound carton machines, we have reduced the weight of card usage by 30%. By fine-tuning working practice in the production areas, we have reduced our packaging waste by 70%.
We also have heat recovery in all process areas and from generators and, with our new recovery plant, we are saving nearly 90% of our factory waste water. We have reduced the amount of waste we send to landfill and no longer spread any waste.
The farm opened its own AD plant recently. How has this changed the way the farm operates? What bottom line benefits have you seen?
Our AD plant started operating in the middle of last year. We have seen numerous benefits. These include becoming fully self-sufficient in electrical energy – our cheese dairy is powered by energy from the CHP, which runs on biogas, saving more than 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
Using the digestate as a fertiliser means we have reduced artificial fertiliser costs by £20,000 a year. The heat recovery from the CHP plants is saving 3MW heat a day in the cheese dairy. We have saved more than £1m a year in our energy costs, and we are now a much more efficient business.
A water reuse plant recently opened at the farm. What were the reasons for this and how will it affect the business?
Experts say the climate is changing, which means extreme weather events are likely to become more common. The EA says that total water demand in England and Wales could increase 35% by the 2050s. Temperature may rise by 1.3-4.6°C across southern England by 2050, which would lead to an 80% decrease in summer run-off water.
In summer 2012, after two winters of critically low rainfall, despite recovering condensate from evaporation of our milk, our boreholes ran critically low. We had contingency plans drawn up to tanker water into site. It was clear that a ‘circular solution’ was needed. Water will become a finite resource – we have installed a solution and we aim to be in water surplus.
What and how much waste does the farm produce now compared with before the green strategy?
There is no such thing as waste: waste is fuel and therefore opportunity.
Are there any plans for the future?
Vehicle fuel solutions and challenging ourselves to keep up with the technological revolution in this sector are on the horizon.