Who knew that Wellington is Europe’s biggest producer of fresh peas? Or that this town produces a greater tonnage of swedes per year than the weight of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier.
After a fascinating look behind the scenes at KS Coles, the growing and packing business near Chelston roundabout, a visiting group from Wellington Business Association now knows just how big this company is.
Founding partners Ken and Christine Coles still live in a farmhouse on the site and son Paul is responsible for day-to-day operations. “We supply almost all the major UK supermarkets with three products; swedes, fresh peas and broad beans,” explained Paul.
“I’d say we’re the biggest swede producers in the UK, growing on land we either rent or own from Scotland down to Cornwall. Allowing for variations in climate that means we can pick almost year round, and when we can’t get into the fields we’ve got 10,000 tonnes of cold storage on site.”
Peas are much more seasonal and grown on around 1,000 acres of farmland within 25 miles of Wellington. These are picked by teams from the 300 young East European students that KS Coles bring to the UK each year – all living on site in dormitory-type accommodation.
“They’re wonderful young people and we love having them with us,” said Christine. “Some just want to make some money to fund their studies but others have stuck with us and become part of the team.” The company has a permanent staff of around 100 on growing and packing operations.
The standards of technology and cleanliness in the packing areas are astonishing. “The supermarkets are so hot on quality control that they can and will reject tonnes of product because of blemish or a rotten pea,” said Paul. “We just can’t let that happen.”
The family has invested well over £10m in new plant and equipment over the past decade and its clear how much it means to Paul, his parents, and sisters. “You couldn’t take the hours and the pressure if you weren’t passionate about it,” he said. “It’s a way of life.”