Being different comes naturally to Natoora. In 2005 we were a wet-behind-the-ears internet start up, the original Online Farmers Market working out of the corner of an office in Bethnal Green, East London. We were connecting some of the country’s best butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers and more, on one website, and delivering to customers in one order. Doing this whilst holding no actual stock, was ground-breaking, exciting and challenging on one hand, whilst logistically a headache and financially ruinous on the other. Yet whilst this pioneering spirit and original concept actually came from a sister company in France, the Natoora of today was shaped by the vision of founder Franco Fubini in the UK.
Originally from Argentina, where his maternal grandfather owned and ran a large leather tannery, whilst his father set up a leather trading company in the USA. Franco had always felt the desire to set something up of his own. Food was where his heart was having spent his childhood following his parents around the world, exploring different cuisines.
A lifetime growing up to love produce, both in its growing and eating, taught Franco that something is very wrong with people’s knowledge and expectation of the fruit & vegetables they shopped for; supermarkets had made produce available year-round, extending its growing season far beyond anything found in nature. The desire to change this made Natoora into the company that it is today.
Paradoxically, for a company that thrives on being innovative and pioneering, it is a sort of nostalgia that inspires so much of what we do: the desire to bring back flavours of the fruits & vegetables that we remember from childhood.
Franco moved to London in 1999, the culmination of a career in banking that took in New York and Rio along the way. Then in 2004 he left it all to work with Phillip Britten at Solstice. A leading produce wholesaler, Solstice offered Franco his first insight into the fruit & vegetable market in London. He quickly discovered that while the city’s restaurant scene was rapidly evolving, the fresh produce market supplying these restaurants was stuck in a different era.
In 2005 the opportunity came up to set up Natoora in the UK. The change of tack from internet retailer to fruit & vegetable specialist was an easy decision and the fulfilment of a long held dream. Natoora was buying from markets in London, Paris and Milan when the River Café approached us to start supplying them as a wholesale customer – their inability to find the quality of fruit & vegetables they needed echoed Franco’s experiences.
In the last 7 years Natoora has experienced 60% CAGR, acquiring nearly 400 restaurant clients on the wholesale side, managed by Vittorio Maschio. In 2012 Natoora started supplying Ocado and opened their first store in Chiswick, with Tim Ballard made director of the retail side of the business in 2014. Natoora is showing they can be successful with a different philosophy and approach to the established companies in the industry.
In 2014, we decided to extend this philosophy to a growing project in Cornwall. Collaborating with Sean O’Neill, the Modern Salad Grower, we helped establish Good Earth Growers, a network of independent producers committed to growing the best tasting, sustainably sourced local produce.
The group promotes growing produce organically - outdoor where possible - and in an environmentally responsible way, only harvesting at the optimum time for flavour. Natoora serves as an outlet for their produce, and the project’s objective is to show that small growers, using sustainable methods can compete with industrial agriculture.
As we continue to grow, one of our main goals is to be more sustainable and reduce the amount of food waste we produce. In 2014, we began working with FoodSave to help us identify ways in which we can minimise and improve our waste. This led us to divert food no longer suitable for human consumption - and that would otherwise go to landfill – to feeding pigs on Weston Farms, the pork supplier for the popular BBQ restaurant Pitt Cue.