Guy Shropshire, the inspirational farmer, agricultural innovator and founder of the G’s Group, one of Europe’s leading salad and vegetable suppliers, has died just short of his 93rd birthday. His visionary business acumen combined with his passion for farming and for quality fresh salads and vegetables have enhanced the lives of thousands.
Guy was born on 5 November 1925, at Little Hales Manor near Newport, Shropshire, to Betsy née Smith and John Charles Shropshire, who ran a farming and butchery business. The youngest of four sons, his parents were so convinced that they would have a daughter that no boys’ names had been considered. The parish priest suggested calling him Guy (for the day) and Stuart (for the King). The name was to prove significant.
Guy had no illusions: the fourth son of a farming family has to make his own way in life and he demonstrated his characteristic independence and entrepreneurial spirit whilst still at school, rearing poultry and selling eggs. At 18 he was managing a 70-acre farm growing root vegetables and salads, and taking evening classes in agricultural science at the local technical college, Harper Adams. In 1949 he married Joan Ollivant and they took on a somewhat-neglected rented farm in Bedfordshire with heavy, challenging land. Guy made the farm pay by working long hours and exploiting the latest technical advances.
Coveting the lighter, fertile Fen soils, perfect for growing salads and vegetables, in 1952 Guy was keen to purchase the 330-acre Fordey Farm near Ely. His bank refused a loan, but impressed by the shrewd vision of the ambitious young farmer, the vendor lent him the necessary funds. Within three years, Guy had redeemed the debt.
Over the decades Guy added other farms to the estate, including Hainey Farm, ideally suited to celery. Celery was to become a major crop for Guy, and this purchase presaged the creation of G’s (short for Guy’s). Foreseeing the growing domination of the supermarkets, by 1957 Guy was no longer selling earth-covered celery in traditional bushel boxes to wholesalers, but had risked investing in a purpose-built packhouse. It paid off – in 1961 Marks & Spencer commissioned him to directly supply his freshly washed celery in their own packaging.
Tragically the following year Joan died suddenly, leaving a grieving Guy with four young children, Elizabeth, John, Peter and Annabel, aged only 2. Just before Christmas 1964 Guy married Christine Mary Bourne and they had two daughters, Sarah and Georgina.
Passionate about Research and Development, Guy continually introduced innovations in his relentless pursuit of quality. These included a strawplanter he patented to protect the light soils and crops from the destructive Fen winds; laser-levelling fields; pioneering drying and refrigerating English onions to ensure year-round supply; introducing new varieties such as Iceberg, Little Gem and Chinese Leaf; and inventing mobile packing rigs to cut, clean and pack celery and lettuce in the field, ensuring freshness and eliminating damage and waste.
Demand for G’s products grew, and in 1968 Guy was forced to bid a record £470/acre for Dimmocks Cote farm, making the national news; land prices rocketed shortly afterwards. By 1984, with supermarkets demanding fresh perishable products 365 days a year, Guy had expanded into Spain to produce winter crops. G’s Spanish business is now as large as the UK one and supplies retailers throughout Europe.
Through sheer determination, passion and hard work, and inspiring loyalty in the exceptional people working for him, Guy laid the foundations of how the G’s Group operates today, producing in excess of three million units of fresh produce daily. Along the way, Guy and G’s received a host of awards for innovation, production, environment and marketing, culminating when Guy, aged 76, received The Grower’s Lifetime Achievement award; the chair of judges commented: ‘Guy Shropshire has always been willing to share his knowledge with others and has actively operated an open-door approach which is still encouraged at G’s today.’
Always a generous supporter of the local community and various charities, in Guy’s later years he also enjoyed breeding racehorses, playing snooker and watching Norwich City. His greatest satisfaction and pride, however, came from seeing that the next generations of his family shared his passion for the farming business and are committed to carrying on his legacy.
Guy Shropshire is survived by his second wife Christine, his six children, sixteen grandchildren and ten great grandchildren.
Guy Stuart Shropshire, born 5 November 1925, died 24 October 2018. A Memorial Service will be held in Ely Cathedral on Friday, 14th December at 1.30 pm.