The William Jackson Food Group is a sixth-generation family business with the first shop opening in 1851. Since then, the business has grown to include some of the UK’s favourite food brands and retailers.

The William Jackson Food Group believes in building strong relationships with their growers and suppliers and it has driven several successful community and environmental projects, including planting 31,000 trees in the city of Hull so far out of a target of 200,000 by the company’s 200-year anniversary in 2051 with the aim to improve biodiversity for wildlife and quality of life for residents.

The business became a Sustainable Futures Partner in 2015 and Sustainability Director, Dr Gavin Milligan, has played a very active part in the programme, sharing his knowledge and demonstrating how The William Jackson Food Group builds strong relationships with the supply chain.

We interviewed Dr Gavin Milligan about his Sustainability Director role and why The William Jackson Food Group chose to become a Sustainable Futures Partner.

 

Own brands

Abel & Cole

Aunt Bessie’s

The Food Doctor

Jackson’s Yorkshire’s Champion Bread

Jacksons

MyFresh

Please describe your role as Sustainability Director within the business.

My job is to understand how the business impacts and is impacted by society and the environment and to help formulate strategies to address risks or find opportunities in those areas.

 

Why did your business choose to become a partner of Sustainable Futures?

All of the businesses in the Group are close to agriculture and horticulture, in some cases having crops contract grown. As such we cannot afford to ignore the changes being driven by climate change, and there is no better way to learn or to contribute to positive change in the sector than by engaging at field level.

 

Which Sustainable Futures Activities have you been involved in and how have they informed you and your business?

I have taken part in a range of different activities, including UK farm visits, Sustainable Futures Conference 2017 (at which I spoke) and a Travel To Learn activity which was a visit to the Netherlands to see some farms which are part of project Skylark which was a major inspiration for Sustainable Futures. We have also hosted a visit by a group of farmers to the Aunt Bessie’s factory to give them an insight into what happens further along the value chain.

 

Can you explain why investing in supply chain sustainability is important for growing your business?

William Jackson started the business in 1851 and we now have sixth-generation family members involved with the running of the organisation. The family shareholders have a very strong sense of being part of a larger system and we can only look forward to another 6 generations if we are part of a healthy food network. Understanding the needs of supply partners elsewhere in the chain makes it easier to work effectively with them and for them to want to work with us.

 

What are the benefits to your business of working collaboratively at a pre-competitive level with other brands on topics relating to supply chain sustainability?

The challenges facing the agri-food system, including increasing demand, degradation of soils, lack of water and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, are too big for any one organisation to address individually. Also, by working together we can share knowledge and avoid re-inventing the wheel. There will always be features of the system which don’t impinge on the way that people engage with their favourite brands, and those are the areas where we can collaborate.

 

Has your business met goals as a result of being a partner of Sustainable Futures? If so, can you tell us about them?

In 2016, we published a set of targets (see below) which cover a range of activity areas. The bulk of the environmental impact of the agri-food system is typically on farms and in kitchens, so we need to engage with growers and customers as well as getting our own house in order and our targets reflect that. The Sustainable Futures project plays a key role in the brand partners understanding what best practice in agriculture and horticulture looks like and we can pay a part in spreading that knowledge.

 

WJFG We Will

‘We Will’ targets from William Jackson Food Group, 2016.

 

Has your business met goals as a result of being a partner of Sustainable Futures? If so, can you tell us about them?

In 2016, we published a set of targets (see below) which cover a range of activity areas. The bulk of the environmental impact of the agri-food system is typically on farms and in kitchens, so we need to engage with growers and customers as well as getting our own house in order and our targets reflect that. The Sustainable Futures project plays a key role in the brand partners understanding what best practice in agriculture and horticulture looks like and we can pay a part in spreading that knowledge.

 

Looking to the future, describe 3 areas of supply chain activity which you think can be improved or changed to increase sustainability?

1) Collaboration is vital; as I mentioned before, the challenges are beyond the scope of individual organisations. WJFG ran a supplier conference last year and will be running another one this year as part of a drive to extend our collaboration network.

2) Agriculture and horticulture generally have opportunities, even if only to address what the UK’s approach needs to be once we leave the EU.

3) It is important that we include the general public in everything that we collectively do. This is difficult, but the importance should not be underestimated as any changes we make in the agri-food system have to be acceptable to society more broadly.

 

What other areas of your business have you reviewed in an effort to be more sustainable?

Looking back to the We Will targets, we’ve done the usual things around energy efficiency including solar panels, a wind turbine, anaerobic digestion, purchasing more efficient equipment and the like. I also regularly engage with industry bodies and attend conferences to share our experiences and to get tips from other organisations. A key part of this collaboration agenda is our membership of the Manufacture 2030 platform which is a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange. By virtue of WJFG being a member, all of our suppliers are able to join at no cost to themselves and take part in a community of like-minded organisations all working to the same ends.

 

What is your personal motive to be part of a more sustainable food and drinks industry?

I’ve always been a nature-lover and this job gives me the chance to contribute towards consideration the natural environment is built into the food system. There is robust evidence of the benefits to mental well-being as a result of access to ‘nature’ and the fact that ecosystems provide mankind with clean air, clean water, flood alleviation and all sorts of other benefits makes it all the more necessary to protect the world around us.