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Leading trail blazer recognised by UK fresh produce industry

9 June 2017

The UK fresh produce industry celebrated the achievements of one of its finest trailblazers at the Fresh Awards 2017.  Leon Aichen of AG Thames Group was awarded the most prestigious tribute as the Fresh Awards Lifetime Achiever, sponsored by Prophet.

“Leon Aichen is an inspiration, a true gentleman.  His reputation for integrity, honesty and loyalty, with a focus on the welfare of those around him, make him one of the most admired and well-respected individuals in the industry,” commented Nigel Jenney, Chief Executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium.

At the age of 15, Leon worked as an office boy for a canning company, moving in 1959 to a pre-packaged goods firm where he was soon promoted to the sales department.  The company was located close to the Sainsbury’s buying office in Blackfriars which at that time employed just four people.  Leon persistently visited the buyers with different samples and his determination was rewarded when one day they took a liking to some carrots – from this humble first order a relationship was formed which continues to this day.

During this time Leon was tasked with closing down an operation but he saw its potential and the business continued until it was sold in 1964 with him still on board.  Those years ingrained a passion for the cut and thrust of the fresh produce industry where on the spot decisions were crucial and the mantra of the time was “your first loss is your best loss”. 

In 1966 Leon started his own venture importing fruit and vegetables primarily to supply UK retailers.    Backed by the bank, he bought a pack-house in Woolwich with space for 700 pallets and a leaking roof!  Highs and lows followed until the deregulation of the South African fruit industry provided an opportunity and he developed his business there, formed relationships with local growers and began importing independently. In the years that followed, as fresh produce from the Southern Hemisphere became more freely available, his business grew and he set up a holding company interest.

At around this time, he was unable to find suitable transport on an apple buying trip, so he started his own freight transport company and in 2001 he moved his entire operation to its current site in Crayford, with 12,500 square meters of office, refrigeration and packing facilities. 

A trail blazer of his time, he was one of the first to invest in European packhouses.  AG Thames Group currently employs over 450 people and is responsible for importing large volumes of fruit from around the globe.

David Aichen received the award on behalf of his father, Leon, who was unable to attend in the evening. The Fresh Award for Lifetime Achievement was presented by Mick Heatherington of Prophet in front of an audience of over 500 people at the gala evening, hosted by British comedian, actor and broadcaster Hugh Dennis at the Intercontinental Park Lane on Thursday 8 June 2017.

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