I don't know how I managed before the traffic light system showing the status of our three production lines was installed outside my office. It is very simple, but very effective.
The idea came from our in-house engineers who put it in within the last six months. So I have a set of lights outside of my office, there is a set outside the factory manager's office, there is one in the café, and there is one in the engineers' department.
I know when the light outside the office is flashing green, when it is flashing orange and when it is red. We have three lanes of lights. Green is steady, all go, everyone's happy.
If that flashing green turns to an amber flash, that means the line's been down for 15 minutes to half an hour, and that's usually a product changeover, a packaging changeover or a total line change. And my God, if it goes red, I get up off my arse and go to see what is going on. Red means it has been stopped for over half an hour.
I subconsciously look up at those lights, it's so visual. It's a built in response it's Pavlov's dog!
I joined TMI Foods, a fully owned subsidiary of Dawn Farm Foods of Ireland, two years ago in August 2010. I was excited by the challenge of an operation in a sector I had not worked in before cooked ingredients, particularly bacon which is my favourite food!
I could live on bacon and sushi basically. So the appeal of working in a cooked bacon factory was fairly immense. But also to see a fantastic facility here that has a lot of space and a lot of future-proofing built in. There's room to install a fourth production line when required.
I'm technically trained. I'm a food microbiologist by trade. I studied at Grimsby College where I did an HND in food science and then went on to do a post grad in food technology with supplementary microbiology.
Over the course of nearly 30 years I've worked in several sectors: frozen, cooked chilled ready meals and fresh food. I'd like to think I've seen most facets of the food industry.
I started with Dalepak Foods, then moved on to Cavaghan & Gray, then to Hazelwood Foods' (now Greencore's) Kiveton operation and then to Moy Park, where I ran the Grantham site working on further processed poultry for a number of years. That was a massive operation, not only serving quick service restaurants (QSRs), but a lot of product going into retail too. I then worked in fresh produce for a number of years, which was also very challenging. After that, I moved to Kerry Foods where I helped put in the environmental standard ISO 14001 into one of its folded pastry sites. And now I'm at TMI Foods.
Rebuilt after fire
The factory is only a couple of years old, built at a cost of £16M. It was partially re-built after a major fire in January 2009, which took it out of operation for a number of months and occurred as the factory was under the second phase of its new construction.
TMI had three factories at the time: one in Coventry for curing and two smaller units on this industrial estate: one doing conventional cooking and one doing microwave cooking. These have all now been consolidated into this factory.
We have three continuous production ovens: a microwave line, which is pretty much dedicated to doing retail crispy streaky rashers; a microwave line, which is fairly utilitarian but can do a number of different types of cook; and we have a hot air impingement oven, which is very specifically for the roasted vegetables and some of the back bacon products that we are developing.
Bacon is cured, matured, smoked and blast chilled for subsequent pressing (for streaky belly pork cuts) and slicing directly onto the travelling ovens for cooking. Product is then transferred through to the high-care area where it is cooled, graded, packed and frozen or chilled as required, ready for despatch.
We buy an awful lot of uncured pork about 50% British ready to cure ourselves and we have a full curing operation. We cure using brine injection and conventional massage tumbling.
Although we predominantly produce cooked bacon, we also do roasted and grilled vegetables, generally for sandwich builds in QSRs. One of the other things we produce are hand-rolled 'pigs in blankets' (sausages in streaky bacon).
While we are curing, using natural smoke and smoke flavours, cooking and presenting bacon we also do raw items as well raw lardons and raw streaky bacon, etc. And everything from diced products right through to full rashers. TMI's 'crispy' bacon rashers are a speciality and the company cures over 15 different types.
At the moment we are working on producing a superb quality back bacon, which is succulent and appealing and very much like that you would cook at home. A lot of work is going into that with customers. There are so many different cure types and so many different smokes available that we can use. We cure the back bacon in the traditional way, which is then naturally smoked to impart applewood, beechwood or hickory flavours. There is definitely a trend towards a lot more smoked product.
TMI cooks 10M rashers of bacon a week enough for 1.6M sandwiches. It produces over 7M pigs in blankets as year, starting production for the Christmas demand peak in July. According to the pig levy body BPEX, the bacon retail market is valued at £1.23bn. The UK market for cooked bacon is currently worth around £123M and is growing as demand for sandwiches, ready meals and snack foods increases.
The biggest challenges I have faced are keeping up with the demands of the retailers and customers in general. And that means keeping apace with the audits we have to achieve.
I need to thank the team here very much for achieving British Retail Consortium Global Standard Grade A to version 6 in July 2012, which was a very important thing for us.
We are heavily audited through third-party audits and directly. If we don't serve a particular customer directly, our customers do, so we have to do all the welfare standards and we have been accredited to Red Tractor. That was a big coup.
While most audits are generally pre-arranged, more and more people are going towards unannounced audits. From my point of view, operationally and technically we have to be audit ready every day. I think unannounced audits ensure customer confidence in our ability to maintain standards at all times.
TMI Foods' main customers are top-end retailers and foodservice outlets. We also serve a lot of the sandwich, ready meals and pizza manufacturers who serve all the other retailers. We have clients in the UK and western Europe.
While the job is challenging, it doesn't keep me awake at night. I'm a fairly calm person and adopt a stance that is approachable and easy going. If I do make a noise, the differential means that people actually listen.
Location: Lodge Way, Lodge Farm Industrial Estate, Northampton. NNS 7US.
Staff: 200 people six nationalities in total, but primarily Polish across two production shifts and one night cleaning shift. Around 25% are agency staff.
Operating hours: Five days a week, two production shifts 6am2pm and 2pm10pm, with a night hygiene shift. Saturdays reserved for preventative maintenance and other work.
Size: Production 8,000m2 (site is 11,000m2).
Products: 10M rashers of bacon a week, including 'crispy' streaky products, 'pigs in blankets' and new smoked back bacon rashers for sandwiches. Total of around 80 stock keeping units.
Annual turnover: c£30M
Name: Mike Garner
Career highlights: BRC v6 Grade A achieved at TMI Foods in July 2012
Domestics: Married to Penny, with three grown-up children: Joe, Kayleigh and Jake.
Outside work: "Spending time with my family, plus I enjoy watching sports and a bit of walking. And with Kayleigh having her first baby in September, I'm looking forward to being a grandfather for the first time."