DEEP ROOTS: story of a relationship
In 2010 when we’d been going for about 18 months we got a call from someone at a company we’d never heard of – Fresh Direct in Bicester. It shows how little we knew at the time about the food industry because FD is a big player – a £250 million business built up from nothing by local Bicester man John Harris. It was a Bank Holiday Monday and the bloke on the line introduced himself as Mike Hirons and said he had some bread we might like to collect. We asked him how much and he said about 1,000 loaves! At the time the OFB was much smaller than it is today and – frankly – 1,000 loaves was a lot more than we could handle. But we went to Bicester and picked up some of it – and that was the start of a fruitful relationship.
Mike Hirons at the time was in charge of the Bicester site and when we had a proper meeting with him about what we wanted to do he instantly grasped the concept and agreed to help us out. It turned out to be an enormous step forward for the OFB. Immediately we started making daily collections from the Fresh Direct campus which is on the southern edge of Bicester on the ring road. The OFB crews soon became a part of the furniture; every day we would turn up at the appointed time and take away whatever the FD quality control people had decided was just not quite perfect enough to be sold to their exacting customers (who include many high-end restaurants and hotels).
The OFB collection soon became part of the daily routine and our volunteers were constantly amazed and delighted by the quality of the produce we were picking up. Asparagus from South America, mangoes, avocados, exotic stuff from South-east Asia and Africa – you name it, we picked it up.
Time moves on – and so did Mike Hirons. He moved out of the FD Bicester operation in 2012 to begin a new, and highly successful, venture here in Oxford – Roots which is situated on the Osney Mead estate. The collections from the Bicester site continue but Mike was keen that the OFB should take surplus from the new operation too. Roots – which is part of the Fresh Direct Group – is now one of our best suppliers – we make a collection from them on a daily basis – and it’s good stuff too.
So, how did it all start? It was Mike’s initiative that set the ball rolling. A ‘fruit and veg’ man for more than 20 years he says he first contacted the OFB because he had heard about us in the local media but his decision to help us out came from a very straightforward conviction. Of giving surplus food to charity he says: “It’s the right thing to do”. And he has been as good as his word making sure that instead of throwing food away the OFB is able to give it to people in need.
The OFB operation nowadays is well established; it wasn’t like that at first – we were small, unknown and a very bare-bones operation. Now we are much larger and doing a much better job. But we couldn’t have done anything without the likes of Mike Hirons – someone from the food industry who’s proved he’s got a good head and a good heart. One of our Hero Suppliers in fact!