Pictured: the stunning Organic Gardens at Holt Farm, Blagdon
Yeo Valley may have exploded into the public consciousness with its rapping farmers and its cutesy boy band but the ads are only part of the story. Country Calling goes behind the scenes with Mary and Tim Mead at Holt Farm in Blagdon, Somerset.
First the rapping farmers, then the muscle-bound boy band sung their way smack bang onto the British radar. If anything, though, it is the next few months which will see Yeo Valley’s grip on the British public take hold.
For starters the organic dairy company has just won its third Queen’s Export for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, one of only ten UK companies to pick up the accolade. It’s a tough award to win, not least because of the hellish paperwork that goes with the application (though with an employee count of 1500 you’d hope that there would be someone who was good at such things).
With a redesign in the bag and a new planned initiative of communicating with consumers from the back of the yoghurt packaging, Yeo Valley looks set to conquer.
The new marketing strategy will focus on the fact that, first and foremost, Yeo Valley is a family business. This week, at the Mead’s stunning organic gardens in Blagdon, in the heart of the beautiful Mendips, it was touchingly clear how true that is.
At 74 Mary Mead is still in charge of the dairy farm she bought with her husband Roger in 1961. Back then they had 150 acres with 35 cows tied up by their necks, water from a well and an outdoor privy. Their success, she says, hasn’t come without ‘huge amounts of borrowed money and huge amounts of hard work.’
Mary explains that Yeo Valley owes its pioneering spirit to her husband Roger, who was tragically killed in a tractor accident in 1990.
She says: “This story begins with a young boy who walked out of school because he had a passion for farming….Roger learned the prime order of things… and he understood the importance of food production.’
After two decades the loss of her inspirational partner still seems devastating. Painfully when Mary refers to the family tragedy and of Tim having to take over the business at the age of 26 she is unable to continue.
Today Mary is clearly the farmer and a hugely respected cattle breeder while her son Tim is very much the businessman. He seems both maverick and visionary and clearly used to carving out his own path.
He says: ”As you mature you suddenly realise your parents aren’t always right and then you realise that the Government hasn’t got a bloody clue either and if you want to change things and make a difference then you’ve got to do it yourself.’
In the early 1990s organic became his personal crusade. Then when the Milk Marketing Board disbanded in 1994 and dairy farmers were forced to find new buyers for their milk he set up the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo) – a brave but ultimately brilliant decision which has seen sales of organic milk grow from five million litres to more than 400 million.
Today he has the dual aspirations of promoting sustainable farming and persuading consumers to buy British. But, make no mistake, he is also primarily focused on growing Yeo's market share as shown by his decision to follow up the stratospheric rap ad with a boy band. He was considering making a Country and Western themed ad until he took his wife Sarah to watch Take That at Wembley and had his second Eureka moment.
He says: “The first (ad) resonated with a lot of very young kids who viewed it time and time again – they don’t actually buy yoghurts!….
‘I sat there watching Take That where 60,000 women were going absolutely bonkers and absolutely loving it and thought if you can create a feel good factor with an advert which has the right target audience then it’s a no brainer.’
Musically Tim prefers things with a harder edge. He left school as a punk obsessed with The Clash and The Jam. He has steered Yeo Valley into sponsoring Glastonbury each year and will be at V and Latitude festivals next summer with Sarah and their four children aged 8 to 17. Engaging with music has provided Yeo Valley with the key to competing against multi-national giants such as Danone, Muller and Nestle.
Yet he is realistic about his expectations for Yeo Valley and, more than anything, just wants to maintain the success it already has. A few years ago, he says, people would have knocked him for not wanting to become the next Unilever.
'They would have said ''Oh you've got no ambition'..Now I am not embarrassed to say actually we just want to exist in our current form."