Myrtle Farm has been home to Thatchers Cider since 1904. Martin Thatcher, a fourth-generation cider maker who planted his first apple tree when he was five, took over from his father John as managing director in 1992. Here, SME catches up with Martin and learns about the story of the company.
Martin, you have been managing director for 30 years now. How has the business grown in that time?
When I took over as MD from my father, John, we continued to work closely together to fulfil the dreams for the company that we both shared then, and still share now. He continued with his passion for the apple orchards, focusing on delivering the absolute best quality fruit to be pressed into our ciders. We have a saying, the best cider starts in the orchard and that’s so important for us. Everything we do at Myrtle Farm all adds up to producing the highest quality cider, sustainably, for our customers, from the people who work for us, the apples we grow, to the equipment in our cider mill.
Together, with a portfolio of amazing ciders that we’ve worked so hard to develop, we’ve been able to gain national distribution, which in turn has now led to us becoming the country’s second largest cider maker, something we’re really proud of. Brands that ooze great taste and refreshment, such as Thatchers Gold, Thatchers Haze, and Thatchers Katy, have helped us get to where we are today.
You are still a family-owned enterprise. Why is that important to you and how does it help?
Its hugely important. My great grandfather started making cider at the family farm back in 1904, where we still make cider today. We’re so proud that the business has thrived independently, with my son and daughter, Eleanor and Peter, now playing their own part in the business and gaining valuable experience across every part of the company. Being a family business has so many advantages – but it’s without doubt exceptionally hard work and as a family we live and breathe it! But having family members directly involved means we can create our vision and stick to it, make quick decisions if we need to, and commit to investment without having shareholders to report to.
You were recently crowned winners of the Sustainability Family Business of the Year Award 2022. Why is sustainability important to Thatchers and how is it demonstrated in the way you run the business?
Yes, that was fantastic to be recognised by the Family Business of the Year Awards for our sustainability programme. As farmers, we genuinely do have the environment at our heart and recognise that we have a responsibility and role to play in ensuring everything we do helps reduce our carbon footprint. Our orchards, as well as being the source of our raw materials, apples, are an amazing haven for wildlife. But it doesn’t stop there. We’ve recently planted a one-acre wildlife area right here in the heart of our cider mill, and we also run a community orchard project where we donate apple trees each year to groups across the UK looking to plant trees in their localities. We create our own energy here at Myrtle Farm, and we’re working hard to reduce our use of plastic across the business. There’s so much to be done, but sustainability goes hand in hand with daily life here at the farm.
Innovation is clearly key to what you do. What have been your most recent developments?
This year we introduced Blood Orange Cider, which has gone down really well with shoppers, tapping into the trend for blood orange flavour across the food and drink sectors. In fact it has grown to become the fourth biggest fruit cider in the UK off trade in just six months which is incredible. And for the hospitality industry earlier this year we introduced Fusion – a first for the industry, bringing three new fruit ciders to the bar in one single dispense font. This has many advantages for landlords, in particularly space saving on the bar, as it uses just one line and one keg of cider.
What are the secrets to making quality cider?
We make no secret of the fact that we pursue quality every step of the way, and as a family company we are prepared to invest back into the business to achieve that.
Your early careers apprenticeship programme has won awards. Tell us about that.
We’re incredibly proud of our Early Careers Apprenticeship Programme which is now in its fifth year and offers opportunities to young people to learn and develop skills across our Brand and Cider Academies. It offers the chance for young people leaving school or college to join us, learn valuable skills as the next generation of cider makers, and play their own part in our continuing success with a fulfilling career. Apprentices get a win-win – real work, in a real company, and a guaranteed salary. From our side as an employer we get to see a fresh injection of talent, keen, inquisitive people bursting with new ideas. Our apprentices make a real difference to our business – they work, collaborate and learn.
How do you hope the business will develop in the years ahead? What do you hope to achieve?
It will be for the next generation to take the business forward with their own ideas and hopes for the future, just as I did together with my father. We live in a changing world, and any business has to adapt and change too. But I sincerely hope that the very long tradition of great tasting Thatchers Somerset cider will continue to hold a place in people’s hearts, and for the time being, I continue to be the guardian of our family brand.