£800,000 finance deal for horticultural enterprise

A West Yorkshire horticultural business has secured a funding package to help it expand.

Cleckheaton-based WS Bentley, (Growers) Ltd, incorporating the brand B Sow Healthy, is a producer of salad cress, pea shoots and micro greens. The business employs 50 staff.

To help it adapt and improve its infrastructure, Virgin Money has arranged a 5-year CIBL of £800,000 to help finance the £1.85m capital expenditure costs of fitting out new glasshouses and expanding its packing capacity.

Having run the enterprise since 1996, Jan Bentley managing director has helped the business go from selling directly to one leading UK supermarket, to supplying seven of the country’s supermarkets.

All the company’s produce is grown year-round in Yorkshire, soil free, hydroponically, with no pesticides and herbicides used.

Jan Bentley said: “Continually assessing the market and its fluctuations has always been integral to our business.

“I was really keen to expand and diversify our product range, and most recently identified pea shoots and micro greens as real gaps in the market which we could capitalise on using our existing facilities and expertise.”

This is not the first time Virgin Money has supported the firm.

In 2020 it provided a £500,000 fully-amortising five-year loan to cover costs of equipping a new glasshouse, a new annexe and the expansion of existing glass space.

Darren Smith, the business’s relationship manager at Virgin Money, said: “Bentley’s has worked really hard to grow their enterprise by responding to market trends and the associated demand for healthy food.

“We are no longer a ‘meat and two veg’ country, as their sales are showing, and it has been really exciting to help Jan strengthen and expand the business to meet the needs of today’s health-conscious consumers.”

Over the last year, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the business.

Most of its catering market, which represented 20% of turnover, was lost. Demand for salad cress also went into steep decline as it is bought primarily by older consumers, many of whom were shielding.

However, with an eye on the future, the company further developed its pea shoots and micro greens ranges to meet increased demands for these products during lockdown.

Jan Bentley added: “Customer relationships are key and we have looked after some of our supermarket customers for decades.

“We have learned to react and respond quickly to their needs, developing products in line with their own individual strategies.

“This is exactly what has happened recently, working closely with the supermarkets, listening to where the gaps are, and where our strengths can fit in. We engage in new product development to fulfil their needs.”