Moo Free, the UK’s number one privately owned free-from chocolate manufacturer, has been awarded the 2023 King’s Award for Enterprise: Promoting Opportunity. This latest honour recognises Moo Free’s founders’ husband-and-wife team Andrea and Mike Jessop’s initiative to provide an inclusive environment in the workplace.
Moo Free offers genuine workplace opportunities for autistic people giving them equal salaries, treatment and the opportunity to grow skills, confidence and thereby increase employment and social opportunities. 20 per cent of their workforce are known for having some form of autism with an average of 10 people with a physical or mental disability being helped each year. Thirteen jobs were also retained for more than a year, with one apprenticeship secured in 2022.
Moo Free actively work with their colleagues to constantly improve their working environment and have employee retention figures of 98 per cent, compared to the manufacturing sector average of 40 per cent[ii].
Andrea Jessop, Moo Free CEO and founder, says “As a business, we have strong ethics surrounding equality, diversity and sustainability, not just with the chocolate products we create, but for the wider community, and of course, our Moo Free family, who include many amazing people including those with autism. We aim to offer an inclusive environment, giving opportunities to people who need them and we are incredibly proud to be receiving this award.”
Andrea and Mike Jessop created Moo Free 12 years ago, after an increasing number of requests from customers for dairy free alternatives, for seasonal chocolate. Andrea, who is autistic herself, and Mike, have both had a lot of exposure to autism, and the challenges and the benefits this brings. Drawing on their personal experiences with their son and daughter, who are also autistic, Moo Free was created to ensure everyone is treated as an individual and not defined by a condition or disability.
Andrea Jessop says “Autism can show in many ways, and everyone is different. We have great knowledge and experience in handling these situations and have employed many valuable team members over the years who are hardworking and dedicated to their role. Everyone deserves a chance, and this to us is how it should be. Our experience is that people who are given valuable work experience and opportunities, and are treated equally and with respect, in and outside of the work environment, are more confident and independent as a result.
“Starting a new job can be a daunting experience for anyone, but it’s amplified for someone with autism. We have additional processes in place to ensure a smooth transition to onboarding our new members to the business and make sure that they are comfortable with the tasks, surroundings and their new colleagues. Procedures like flexible working patterns and a buddy system help with the transition of starting employment at Moo Free.
“In the food manufacturing industry, it’s common to work on a strict shift pattern. At Moo Free, we appreciate that for some people with autism this is too long a day, or is too far removed from a person’s routine, and for some, one that is not easy to adapt to. We work with individuals to make sure they are comfortable with the job they are doing and the hours they work.
“We pro-actively direct our recruitment to make sure we always have 20 per cent of autistic people in our workforce and have close relationships with the local organisations who position people with disabilities into work, enabling us to provide work experience or employment to people from these groups. “
The King’s Award for Enterprise: Promoting Opportunity 2023 is the latest accolade for Moo Free, who have previously won over 100 consumer and trade awards since the company’s inception over a decade ago. These include The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: International Trade; Food Manufacturer Excellence Awards 2021 and 2022 and various consumer Free From and Vegan food awards.
Moo Free recently celebrated a record year end to 2022, with sales 18 per cent up on 2021, new listings in Sainsbury’s, and recently being awarded as a B Corp certification, an M&S A+ approved site, and the British Retail Consortium Global Food Safety Standard.