Norwich firm’s century of sunshine

Derek James tells the story of McCarthy's, who have been bringing fruit and vegetables to the people of Norfolk for more than 100 years.

Children were seeing bananas for the first time more than 65 years ago and right now, around 12 tonnes of sunshine are rolling into Norfolk.

At other times of the year, or even every week of the year, it might be lorry loads of leeks or lettuces, potatoes or pineapples.

McCarthy's wholesalers have been bringing fruit and vegetables to the people of Norfolk for well over a century – and I thought it was about time I told you the story behind the famous name.

This month, thousands of Seville oranges are arriving at the McCarthy depot, just outside Norwich, to fuel our passion for home-made marmalade.

The oranges are picked just once a year in the southern Spanish city – and sent over to Britain to be transformed into traditional marmalade.

Martin McCarthy will be using some of this year's crop to make his own marmalade, to a Delia recipe, and said: 'I love marmalade and the more bits in it the better. It's my habitual Sunday morning treat, along with a leisurely cup or two of really good coffee.'

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The thriving family business, which today supplies the region's shops, restaurants, schools, caterers, hotels and offshore industry, began back in 1877 when Thomas McCarthy started selling fruit and vegetables from a barrow in London's Drury Lane.

After a holiday in Great Yarmouth his son, Dan, moved the business to Norfolk, where he sold fruit to holidaymakers in the summer, and to the huge Scottish fishing fleet which used the harbour in the winter.

When Dan went to sea himself, serving with the Royal Navy during the First World War, his 12-year-old son left school to work on the market and help his mother feed the family.

The fruit sellers became fruit wholesalers, but during the Second World War two of their warehouses were bombed and their lorries requisitioned for war work. But when peace arrived, so did bananas and McCarthy's handed out that exciting first shipment to local children.

Today, McCarthy's is based in Norwich, where Thomas's great, great grandson, Martin, is one of four brothers still working in the family business. He works alongside his parents, John and Yvonne McCarthy, and his brothers Simon, David and Peter.

There are 52 staff and in 2009 Simon's son Daniel started work, becoming the sixth generation of the family to work in the business.

He is the only sixth generation McCarthy old enough to start work so far, but his younger cousins do their bit, by tucking into the fruit and veg. However, Martin admitted: 'We certainly have our fair share of vegetables in the winter and salads in the summer, with so much to choose from we are really lucky. Still, not all of us are quite so good at eating enough fruit and often fail our five-a-day target!' Last year, the company opened a new distribution centre at the Broadland Business Park, just outside Norwich, from where they supply all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables, from staples like potatoes and cabbages to exotic kumquats and dragonfruit. Wherever possible they buy local and their Norfolk-grown produce ranges from raspberries to rocket and broccoli to beetroot. They also deal in herbs and prepared salads and vegetables.

Martin said: 'These days people eat a much broader range of produce than ever.' However, today's best sellers would not look too out of place in Thomas McCarthy's Victorian barrow – with potatoes, onions, cabbages, cauliflowers, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, and apples still among our fruit and veg favourites.

For more information about D and F McCarthy Ltd (by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales) visit