Shelflife

Simon Wright

“Simon Wright is 40 and a leading international authority on organic food processing. A trained Food Technologist, Simon shares his house in London with his partner and next door’s cat, Frankie”

The alarm clock is set for 7am but I usually wake before it. By 7.15 I am installed in our office with my first mug of Clipper tea of the day – commuting is easy when you only have to walk down the stairs ! We moved to our house in Southfields, South West London eighteen months ago and every day I give thanks for the amount of space we have – when you work from home being able to shut the office door is essential. We are gradually redecorating using Feng Shui principles: at the moment we have a missing Fortunate Blessings corner which we definitely need to rectify.

This morning I am catching up on e-mails, faxes and phone calls from my clients in the natural foods trade. My business card says “Consultant Food Technologist Specialising In The Development of Organic Food and Drink”. Currently I am helping companies such as Whole Earth, Green & Black’s, Lyme Regis Foods, The Village Bakery, Saxon Foods, Seagreens, Fabulous Foods and Nordex Foods develop organic products – finding organic ingredients from around the world, getting factories certified as suitable for organic manufacturing, and advising on the complexities of organic legislation.

In addition I have recently begun working as an advisor to the Soil Association, and my current project with them is to help companies source non-Genetically Modified ingredients. Today I spend a long time on the phone to Lindsay Keenan at Genetix Food Alert, talking through recent developments in the UK and at the EU.

11 o’clock and time for A Little Something, which means investigating what’s left from last weeks Organic Box of fruit and veg. Today it’s a spinach, tomato and lettuce salad with fresh parmesan. I eat in our conservatory, admiring what Wendy has done to transform the garden – when we moved in it was almost entirely paved over but now it is beginning to blossom. Wendy is also a consultant – helping organisations to develop by focussing on the people side, encouraging individuals and teams to work more effectively.

Another of my current projects is helping the organisers of the mainstream industry show Food Ingredients Europe put together an Organic Section for the show in Frankfurt. The show isn’t until November but the amount of organisation that has to go in before then is enormous – now I know how the Natural Products show team feel! We organised an Organic Section for the first time last year and attracted 12 companies: this year we will have 25, which shows how the market is developing.

Until recently the organic food world was like a club, where everyone knew everyone else. The rapid entry of many new companies into the sector has diluted this feel, but still much of what I do depends on my knowing the strengths and capabilities of different organic suppliers and processors. One of my most important assets is my database: two large boxes of business cards and file cards arranged alphabetically, American Natural Snacks to Zuivel Zuivel. When I set up as a consultant three years ago it was with the aim of only working with people I liked and whose ethics I shared. It says something about the organic food world that I have been able to do this.

1pm – time to shave, put on a tie, check my notes and I’m off to the Leatherhead Food Research Association who have asked me to give a presentation entitled “Organic Food Moves Into The Mainstream” as part of a two-day seminar on Healthy Eating. It feels strange to be sitting on the train to Leatherhead – it was here that I started my career in the food industry twenty years ago, working with companies such as Nestle, United Biscuits, Lyons Maid and Unilever. My move into the natural foods trade happened eight years later, when disillusioned by much of what I was doing I accepted Craig Sams invitation to work at Whole Earth Foods. My fellow scientists at Leatherhead thought I was mad but time has shown the wiser, a point I make in my presentation to the representatives of the mainstream food industry gathered in the Main Hall.

I made my first ever public speech here and was absolutely terrified but today I feel a lot more confident. I have been doing a lot of these presentations recently, helping to get the message across to the food industry that organic food is here to stay. Some of the world’s largest food manufacturers are at the conference today – they all seem to be investigating how they can start producing organic food, looking at both practical and marketing considerations. Such issues make for a lively debate over a cup of tea and a Hobnob (definitely not organic) before I head back to Southfields.

When I get home Wendy is also back and we decide on a game of tennis at the park at the end of our road. I have come to sport late in life, although I go to the Portobello Fitness Centre for a pre-breakfast workout twice a week. Chasing after a tennis ball makes a good change from sitting in front of my Mac. If only my serve were better – on the rare occasions it goes in I am so busy celebrating I forget to play the next stroke.

Before leaving for the park I slipped a baking tray of sliced vegetables into the oven on a low heat and by the time we get back it’s ready. I look hard at the cold bottles of beer in the fridge but sparkling mineral water wins out. Over supper we catch up on the days events and start tentative planning for the weekend: now that we are both freelance it is easy not to take time off. A great help here is my Beach Hut in Hove, a present for my 40th birthday last year. I get down to my hut whenever I can – it only takes an hour on the train. We even had a an organic tea party at the hut during the Natural Products show. Having the hut gives us a great excuse to have lunch at Food for Friends or Terre a Terre in Brighton.

My last work for the day is to e-mail my website designer David Cross with some last-minute additions to my website (www.organic.dircon.co.uk). I decided to set up my own website only a few weeks ago and with David’s help it has been relatively painless. I also check out the Rolling Stones website (www.the-rolling-stones.com) for news of the forthcoming European tour as I plan to see them in Paris and Copenhagen.

I work outside London about once a week, usually visiting a factory in the UK or mainland Europe. Tomorrow I’m off to Scotland – not quite the Man From Del Monte, but still a new factory which is always interesting. I book a taxi for 6am and pack my briefcase with the Soil Association Organic Standards (reference) and Lynda Brown’s new book on where to buy organic food (to read on the plane). Finally I brush my teeth with Urtekram Moroccan Mint toothpaste before heading upstairs for some organic sleep.

SW 18.6.98