Every year the President of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture chooses an individual who, in their opinion, epitomises the term horticulturist. Someone who has a true passion for the industry and everything it stands for and someone who has actively made a positive impact and given their life to horticulture. The winner of the award receives a commemorative plaque at the CIH Annual General Meeting to demonstrate their invaluable contribution to this immensely important industry.
President Owen Doyle CHort FCIHort presented the award to Caroline Keeling at the 2017 CIH Conference and AGM, where she also gave the James Bruce Memorial Lecture on Growing with passion to meet consumer needs.
Ms Caroline Keeling is Chief Executive Officer of Keelings Fruit, and part of the third generation of Keelings to run this family business. Their farm was established in 1929 at Fingal, north Co. Dublin, and they began to produce fruits and rhubarb in the 1930s, supplying product to the local Dublin markets. In the 1970s the growth of supermarket retailing was the driver to create the company as it operates today. The company diversified into other produce categories and began shipping, sourcing and distributing fresh produce around the world into Ireland, the UK and European markets. In the 2000s new modern glasshouses were constructed at the Food Central, a 140-acre food park developed by Keelings, to produce sweet peppers and lately extended season strawberries. Also a separate division, Keelings Solutions was established. This business introduced advanced supply chain methods and computer software systems to ensure effective distribution of produce to customers, it now trades in China. Since Caroline has taken over the leadership within the business, Keelings has increased turnover by 50%. The company now employs over 2,000 people and has sales of over €350m. Under the branding ‘Love to Grow®’ the company produces top fruits, soft fruits, and has lately added lilies to their growing portfolio of fresh products.
Caroline has been at the helm of the Keelings fruit production and food distribution company since 2006, when she took over as Group Managing Director. Having started her career with Green Isle foods, she came back to the family business as technical manager in 1994. In 2006, she took over as group managing director and then became CEO. She is the driving force for innovation and marketing in the business. In addition to being CEO of Keelings, and in conjunction with her charitable works, she is a Bord Bia board member, chair of the Horticulture board of Bord Bia, chair of the Dublin Action Plan for Jobs Implementation Committee, and a member of the Export Trade Council. She has a BSc (Chem) degree and an MSc in Food Science from University College Dublin. Her and Keelings’ contribution to the horticulture industry has been immense.