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.
A lot is being written about “Product Quality” and “Manufacturing Quality” and I am not sure if many of the article writers know what they are talking about – of if they are just trying to put marketing spin to cover up a lack of substance.
We work to the highest standards – but we are not just saying so, we can prove it – and we have been doing so for longer than most. We drive standards and are driven to implement improvements. We can prove this as we are externally audited to ISO 9001 and ISO 22000 (Food Safety). What this means is people with extensive industry knowledge check what we are doing and how we are doing it to make sure and sign off that we are achieving high standards – and on a daily basis.
We are then audited by Customers who place their own demands on us – to improve quality.
We undertake regular reviews of how we work and how we can improve this.
We employ external consultants to audit us every fortnight and advise us on what to focus on next. This involves the management team as well as factory staff. Food safety is regularly reviewed by all key staff in the factory.
We have validated procedures for all processes.
We provide a Professional dedicated blending service for companies who value the control and assurance our facility and processes give them in making Professionally produced, high quality products every time.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday we put the new labeller on line and were filling and labelling at the same time. This is a big help and is working really well. The quality is very good too – after some adjustments.
I spent Monday updating our search details on the web. All the details that cam up on Google were for the old Buxton address and company but Google was not listing our URL. So I searched for us and updated all the lisitngs I could – this took ages. Most update almost immediately – which is really good. The classic name was “ufindus but by Tuesday morning I discovered that they had found me along with a number of the sites I had entered my details on. However, Google is finding us through them, so who am I to complain. I keep hoping Google may find us eventually but although I have submitted a sitemap and URL and they are not reporting any problems, I still have no listings. Maybee the spider is off sick.
What the update did teach me is to have relevant keywords and that is my next job – to make my Meta Tags very relevant to the businesses I am looking for.
Today was a trip to Edinburgh. I left at 5:30 am and got back at 8:00pm tonight.