Gloucestershire food business's ‘people-planet-first’ culture is driving profit too

Staff well-being and the environment are key considerations for many businesses, but making them a priority and turning a profit remains elusive for many. SoGlos explores how one Gloucestershire firm, Green Gourmet, is succeeding at both.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
Innovative food firm Green Gourmet's people-first culture is award winning - but it is also key to the success of what remains a profit-driven, customer-focused business.

Being ranked in both the UK's Best Workplaces and named as a Best Workplace for Women in 2022 is reward for an ongoing journey at Green Gourmet in Stroud, but the Gloucestershire firm is also winning on its bottom line too.

SoGlos sat down with Caroline Barnes, the director of people and performance at the Five Valley's firm, to ask if the company famed for its innovation in the tough food and drink sector really has cracked the conundrum of flexible working, plus profit – and if so, how and what the real benefits are of a happy, healthy workplace.

Barnes said: ‘This was no overnight success ­– and it did not come about because of Covid-19.

‘It was something our founder and executive chairman Adam Starkey was passionate about from the beginning, and when the new managing director, Mike Hanley arrived, he ensured it remained at the centre of how we operate.’

Barnes has been central to helping crystallise what might otherwise be a well-meaning vision into something tangible for staff and management.

Her own career progression and the impact she has had is an example of the benefits for both staff and business of the Green Gourmet culture in practice.

‘In my previous job, I found it difficult to manage full-time hours after starting a family. I did not think anything existed for someone who wanted to work part-time, but not lose sight of progressing their career.

‘Although I benefit from flexible working 25 hours a week, I am able to work these hours in harmony with being a mum so that I can thrive in my personal and professional life.’

She became a director of the firm last year; fifty-six per cent of its staff are female.

By looking for the right people first and talking about hours afterwards, the firm has benefitted from talent overlooked by others, a policy that also helps explain - in part - the commitment it enjoys from its team. Then there is flexible working, in place pre-pandemic, which seems to work so effortlessly.

‘It is not easy. There is a massive role for communication, so people know what is expected of them, and responsibility rests with them for delivering,’ said Barnes.

‘Everyone can work from wherever they want, but almost everyone still regularly comes into the office too, through choice.’

That office, a converted former restaurant in an old malthouse at Salmon Springs on the Painswick Road, has the working kitchen it needs to develop food products for customers from schools to airlines, and which have included Levi Roots, famous for his Caribbean sauces. And ‘yes’, it has kept the former restaurant's bar area stocked with all the necessities.

Green Gourmet has a team working on sustainability initiatives, recently partnering with a nearby primary school to provide meals during the school holidays and plans to support a school in Kenya to develop a small holding to feed their students.

There is also a stakeholder engagement forum to ensure the business can respond to the challenges faced by its customers, suppliers and employees

‘What has been incredible is the way that our people and planet initiatives have  galvanised purpose for our team being part of a mission-led business. People want to feel they are part of something bigger than just a profitable business,’ said Barnes.

‘It is part of our business objective to consider planet and people alongside profit, and deliver a high performance culture, with clear goals and accountability.

‘It is not somewhere you simply arrive at – it has been and will continue to be  a journey. It is about making your business truly sustainable. If you ignore  people and the environment, you will maybe last 10 or 20 years.

‘We are 30 years old now. Adam (Starkey) wants us to be more than a 100-year-old business.’

‘We have to make profit, we are here to make profit, but to achieve that we have to consider the bigger picture, the environment and community as well.

‘I think there can be  a perception that it is not commercial, but your employees expect it, your customers expect it.

‘It is about running a modern business, not just about being in an amazing place, it’s also about getting the most talented people who give their all.

‘To do that, you have to have this holistic approach and great leadership too and do something to actually encourage and support your people.

‘We are a £20 million turnover business and price this into what we do. We have a health and well-being fund, which will pay £30 a month expenses to support each employees well-being, you can pay for anything from trainers to counselling with it and you get a £100 bonus for keeping active each month.

‘It is about helping people stay physically and mentally well, so they can be the best version of themselves when they are here.’

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