I graduated from the University of St Andrews with an MA (Hons) in Philosophy, having grown up on a family arable farm in Yorkshire. I moved to London to work for a management consultancy, helping companies like Google, Royal Mail and Experian commercialise big data.
However I craved something more ‘real-world’ so moved to a marketing agency owned by M&C Saatchi to help companies like Adidas, Samsung and BWM develop brand strategies that would connect with consumers and open up new markets. This opened my eyes to the power of strong branding, marketing and advertising. And also to the commercial cycles, pressures and strategies of FMCG. But being a farmer’s son I wanted to work on brands I could relate to, so I moved to Associated British Foods, a fifteen and a half billion pound turnover company with a portfolio of UK grocery brands, including Jordan’s Cereals (Country Crisp), Dorset Cereals, and Twinning’s. I first joined their Graduate Programme in brand marketing and subsequently their Future Leaders Programme to work in digital sales strategy. This was a fascinating role in the rapidly developing online grocery market. The highlight for me was leading the negotiation of a new commercial and legal relationship with Amazon Fresh to launch all our brands on their new platform – it gave me real insight into how big brands and companies view the commercials of the grocery market, in which we all now participate as farmers.
In 2016 my wife, Katherine, and I left the corporate world behind to travel for a year before we moved North to the farm and she re-joined a law firm in Leeds. We now live a very different but happy life trying to understand what the future holds for the farming industry and what part we can play in it. In our spare time we see family and friends, many of whom are returning north, and enjoy walking in the fells and lake district with our dogs. I am enormously grateful to the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and the National Trust for sponsoring my study and for making my Nuffield Scholarship possible.
The Role of Brands in Scaling Regenerative Agriculture
Wholefoods Market selected Regenerative Agriculture as the top food trend for 2020. Patagonia, The North Face and General Mills are amongst the international brands focussing on sourcing from regenerative farming supply chains. This is because, for many, the old sustainability narrative is broken. Until now we have been focussing on doing the least harm to our planet. On minimising our footprint. But regenerative Agriculture offers farmers, brands and consumers a story of hope. It could be a way to start actively healing our soils, waterways and biodiversity. It could be one of our best opportunities to reverse climate change by drawing down man-made emissions into the soil. Often farm innovation revolves around what works on farm and what we enjoy doing. It doesn’t focus on what the consumer wants and where demand exists in the market.
I will explore how brands are driving demand for regenerative agriculture and the opportunity for farmers to respond, de-commoditise and add value.