As I write this, we are coming to the end of further investment.
In October 2013 the last unit in our block came available and the opportunity to own and control the whole unit was too great so we took this on. It includes more offices and warehouse space. We have been incredibly lucky as the other units we have taken over have not been used that much so little was needed to be done to integrate them into the plant. This has been racked out recently to integrate it into the goods-in warehouse.
We have further upgraded the line installed in 2012 to increase throughput.
We launched some 50 products last month. To achieve this we are streamlining NPD – although are still catching up with some products.
We are now focussing on further streamlining production and staff development. We are coming up to our triennial ISO 9001 and 22000 review which will make July busy with 5 days of Audits alone.
In August 2012 we installed a new, high speed, blender to improve production efficiency – this allows us to blend 750kg in 90 seconds.
This sounds impressive, but the main benefit is to improve product quality. We cannot pack product in 90 seconds, so it gives us plenty of time to QC product and to keep the blender ahead of production. It keeps our blending efficiencies to where they need to be.
For the last 2 months we have been extraordinarily busy and the new blender has made the process of meeting customers’ requirements much easier.
In installing this we were running short on factory space, so expanded into the next unit. This increased our space by another third. Another unit became available later in the year, and having been short of space for too long, took this on also.
The industry continues to be exciting but driven by innovation and quality – where we excel.
I feel guilty at not writing more on the blog recently. But other needs have been more pressing.
Obtaining ISO 9001 and ISO 22000 in August last year took a lot of time. Most procedures were in place and we did not alter much paperwork but some of the reporting systems – minuting all meetings and showing we had Verified and Validated all processes took a lot of concentration. For me, this was an essential tool for us to move forward and grow. Now everything we do is clearly documented – using a computer based system – so if anyone is not sure what to do, all they need to do is look. This releases my time to looking at new ideas.
We also built some new offices in August 2011 which we moved into in February 2012. Although this was meant to be a turn key operation, it took a lot of management time to get it right. The old offices were really a single room which we had outgrown. We needed to allow room for growth and we had a space in unit 3a to build them. We are finding them much easier to work in and now have a dedicated development area for out New Product Development and innovation. This is now nearly fully manned.
Our final, for now, investment in the offices in an upgraded computer software system to cope with manufacturing and production planning. This is nearly ready to go live.
The old office is now a good staff canteen – which has improved staff morale – and the old canteen is a wash-room for the factory – taking all water out of the factory.
Our focus is now on improvements to the manufacturing plant which I hope to report when I next write.
The market continues to grow while at the same time changing. A vast amount of production is now in bags – obviously for saving the environment while also saving costs. But demand for tubs is also strong. We worked with Bob at Taylor Davis on a PET tub range, which is going well. As the market grows in the UK so does opportunities for innovative manufacturing. We still believe we lead the industry in innovation in products and manufacturing efficiency which enables is to keep our costs down.
Whey supply seems to be easing but the price is still strong. We do make some straight whey, but also a lot of blends. With new sources of Whey Protein Concentrate 80 from WheyCo, Arla and First Milk, this may help. We maintain good relations with key suppliers. But innovation is still key for the industry. We look forward to cautious growth going forward.
The year seems to have got off to a really busy start. We are continuing to grow with intrinsic growth of existing products, new products from existing customers and new enquiries. The main challenge for us is getting sufficient ingredients to meet our customers’ demands and this is slowing New Product Development as we are refusing to take on new projects if we cannot secure enough ingredients to meet future foreseeable demand.
The enigma is whey protein which is the least of our supply problems but the price keeps going up. The price is expected to fall going forward but it was not expected to get this high either. It seems a great deal is being used in China in infant formula and if this continues we can expect supply to become shorter. I think the industry need to recognise that there are some good vegetable proteins which work as well as whey at a much lower cost and higher health benefits. Time will tell.
The Earthquake in Japan has affected Amino Acid supplies. Cocoa has also been scarce. I seem to spend a lot of my time buying forward these days to get the contracts in place.
Most R&D is now done in house – we built a small lab at Christmas. This is more for time saving as the run to the lab was a 2 day job before.
Demand from new start-ups is increasing but we are having to conclude we are not always best placed to deal with these. We make bespoke product with bespoke flavours and deliver in 3 days from order. To make this worthwhile we really need weekly demand and are selecting new projects which are likely to grow to reasonable volumes so they will benefit from our service.
Work on our ISO Quality Management System is largely completed and we are just waiting for the auditors. This has been a major investment for us although all the systems were in place – we can now prove the systems are in place too.
We are also pursuing technical innovations going forward to continue to support our customers in this rapidly changing market.
2010 has been quite a year.
Some larger new customers joined us throughout the year and the market remains buoyant. We have used the experience to improve our processes and disciplines. We believe our quality and service is second to none.
Protein prices remain challenging with increases in January and March. 2010 was looking better but some suppliers are looking for further increases in 2011. I personally do not think the market will stand it and with the consumers having less money to spend the market could well contract, effectively being hit at both ends. So we are driving for further production efficiencies to continue to keep us competitive.
We continue to strive to give better service. We hit a record this year – getting an urgent order at 5:45pm on a Friday night and it was delivered to third party warehousing at 7:00pm that night. We do not offer this as standard!!!
The number of enquiries keep increasing but we are not really set up for smaller start ups so we have focussed on building bespoke products for established or rapidly growing brands. This is where we excel.
2011 is looking challenging but we are looking forward to it. We have a lot of plans afoot but will report on them as they come to fruition. We have moved most of our computers to Linux now (Ubuntu) with only one left running Windows. We now run windows as virtual machines to run this web site software and our accounts package only. As we get used to it we find more benefits than drawbacks. The main ones being security, effective spam filtering and cost saving.
We have started 2010 with a number of New Products to launch for customers. Staff morale is very high. We are keeping on top of existing production and meeting deadlines for the new products. Re-orders are the biggest challenge as we try to keep enough in stock to meet our customers expectations – we have had some issues with the supply of tubs which have been delayed with the snow and production difficulties – but the knock on has been delays supplying our customers – but they have yet to run out, which is good.
We see our role as to help brands grow through innovation in products and pricing in 2010. We are well positioned to buy competitively in a market of rising whey protein prices.
We continue to invest in the company – we have four new machines arriving shortly. We also try to manage our spend on technology, using Open Source products where possible. Our positioning in the market means we have to keep our overheads low and manufacturing efficiencies high to remain competitive.
I have not written since about a year ago and though an update was in order. 2009 has been unexpectedly busy although times now are probably as uncertain as they were last year. So far, through the recession, we have seen protein prices fall. This is expected to change dramatically. We have had increases in the last month which I expect may continue into 2009 if the £ does not recover. I suspect that January will see the political interfering in the economy come to an abrupt end, now that the December 2009 figures have been massaged to make the economy look good for the General Election.
We are still putting in long hours to launch new projects and keep the factory running smoothly. Keeping the factory ahead of what is required in the food industry is a challenge. We have bought a new blender this year, a new metal detector, sifters and powder transfer equipment. We have updated our working practices at least twice, revisited staff training and completely re-audited the health and safety aspects of the factory. We decided that keeping ahead is better than trying to keep up! This trouble is keeping ahead of moving goal-posts.
New Product Development is still a challenge as we try to meet our customer’s needs while running the factory.
The main driving factors at the moment seem to be;
Exchange Rates: The market is just coming to terms with the weaker £ which is making UK Manufacturing increasingly attractive – especially against the $. However, it also means that Whey Proteins are still incredibly high against a year ago and the decrease in euro cost is not being passed on in the UK. I believe that Whey is rapidly losing its status as the leading protein in Sports Nutrition.
The Credit Crunch: Concerns about the credit crunch are driving prices down. Visits to the Gyms are reported to be down but sales of quality and value products seem to be holding.
Internet Stores – the increase in popularity in internet stores is having an impact on the market. As the stores hit larger volumes, the larger stores are discounting the brands and are looking at their own in-house brands. Their perception is that Brands make more margin than they really do and they overlook the cost of R&D and athlete support that many brands have got themselves into.
The result is that products are being driven away from quality towards manufacturing to a price – usually massively compromising quality. While this has always happened to some extent, this is becoming a widespread problem. Too much product is also being judged on taste and it is easy to make a product taste good – this issue is making it fit a nutritional need and still taste good. In simple terms, taste issues are supporting the cheap products.
We are responding by improving production efficiencies (we have an excellent Team who work hard to get more production out every day), offering products engineered for quality or cost, buying well and continuing to offer excellent customer service with prompt delivery. New Product Development is still the slowest part of the process.
The factory ran well last week – we are really up to full production again since the labeller arrived. We reviewed all the staff. With the web site up and running we are more focussed on where we should be, so we spend some time looking strategically at the position of the business and some time investigating/developing new products and future product/packaging innovations.
Strategically, we are positioned as powder blenders and are committed to filling powder products. Our mission is to contract manufacture of brand owners as efficiently and competitively as possible – providing them with the format and format innovations that they need. Powders use no artificial preservatives, have good shelf life, are more carbon friendly that liquid products, are more adaptable and are ideal for short to long runs. I often reflect that tea and coffee are predominantly sold as powders.
For liquid filling, we have spend some 10 years in the business and have partners who can fill for us, if required. This does not rule out specialist liquid filling if our customers demand it. But it does drive focus to our business.
We revised our company image last week with the new globe logo (incorporating the amino acid structure) and artwork. The web site was reviewed accordingly.
I found http://tools.summitmedia.co.uk/spider/ which is a spider simulator and discovered my home page was not readable. So I made some changes and am getting a better result now. I have also re-loaded my pages with more realistic tags and made the content more relevant to the tags. Strangely, the process has also made me focus on the business, by thinking what our clients need and will look for. I have seen numerous sites where they are just coming out with marketing stuff and not focussing on the customer’s needs. Hence it was back to New Product Development.