The Fresh Olive Oil Company has been going for 20 years and was started up by George Bennell, who is now the md, and Adam Wells, who is the finance director. Charlie Hodges is the third partner in the business.
George still has an ambition to open and run his own restaurant and, in 2006, he and Adam sold a majority stake in The Fresh Olive Company. But they were not happy with the way the new owner [Novel Group] was running the business and came back in [in a management buyout in 2009 with Hodges].
George was previously a chef. He and Adam came across a lot of market stalls in Provence, France, selling olives and saw a gap in the market. A lot of people from the UK were buying olives there to take back home and they started importing them into the UK.
I didn't start off in the food industry. I began working in construction testing, dealing with asbestos and monitoring bridges. But I got laid off and went to Unigate Dairies as a lab technician. I became a production shift manager for Dairy Crest when it bought out Unigate.
I moved to south London and shifted to Ugo Foods as assistant operations manager from 20002002. I got the chance to become operations manager, but I also got cold called to take production to the next level for The Fresh Olive Company. From 20022005 I worked as production manager here and from 2005 onwards I became operations manager for the site.
We moved to this site, which was 80% bigger than our previous site in Park Royal, north London, in September 2010. It was bought from the bank. It took nine months to find and four months to kit out. It gives us total flow of production from goods in to goods out.
The building stretches over three floors. Warehousing and storage are situated on the ground floor, production is on the first floor, along with the canteen, activity room and main offices, and the meeting and presentation rooms are on the top floor.
Since we moved, we have spent a lot of money on growing the business. We shouldn't have to make any major investment now, having already spent £5M10M to put the infrastructure in here. We are in it for the long haul. We have enough space to grow capacity to four or five times what we are doing at the moment.
We want the foodservice market to remain the main focus. We supply products to a lot of foodservice customers, including Michelin-starred chefs. But we have also put a lot of cash behind bringing products direct to the consumer via multiple retailers under the Belazu brand.
Retail is a major growth area, but so is the export market. We started breaking into that market 18 months ago. We have covered trade shows in Singapore, India, Thailand and Scandinavia. We're also doing well in China.
We buy different varietal olives mainly from the Mediterranean basin and North Africa, from Greece, Morocco and Spain and we have back-up suppliers in case we have problems. We have sourced some olives from elsewhere, including South America, but these areas are not our main focus.
Green olives arrive in barrels of brine and black olives in dry barrels, as they make their own brine. We then prepare them by adding ingredients such as vinegar, herbs, chilli, spices, pestos and tapenades.
We have strict segregation for allergens, the major one we use being nuts, which we lock in a cage near the goods in and keep separate from everything else.
We have a small product development lab, in which we test out new recipes and flavours in small batches before scaling them up. We constantly engage in quality testing for a range of criteria from acidity and salt levels to organoleptic qualities, such as colour, size and taste throughout. We have a company taste panel that is composed of people who work at all levels of the business. Sometimes all of the safety and quality boxes can be ticked, but the product can still taste rubbish.
The bulk of checking is done manually and we have metal detection at the end of the process. Our suppliers also have X-ray and grading systems. We have a black and white policy on that. We then pack the olives in a variety of formats. We supply olive oils as well, but we don't produce those here.
I enjoy delivering high quality food here. I believe in the products and the staff under me believe in them as well. The company has strong family values and looks after its employees. We do a lot of product tastings with staff, so when customers ask questions about them they can give feedback from the knowledge they gain.
I enjoy pushing the boundaries on recipes and packaging formats. I think if we can lead the way on quality of product it keeps the job fresh.
I like hands-on management, being down on the shopfloor, mingling with the guys. We have got staff here from all over the world, but none of them are migrants. They all live nearby. We do work with local job centres and some come to us by word of mouth.
We like to give back to the local communities we work with. In Morocco, for example, a lot of children can't read or write so we have funded a school there for the past 12 years. We are looking to expand that work this year and are working with staff to raise money.
We also organise regular events for staff. We have just finished a table tennis competition. We get together for the finals and pay for a big lunch.
We hold regular refresher training for staff on all areas of the business, especially quality control and health and safety. We have a policy of promoting people internally and we have got people who started running trucks in the warehouse who are now purchasing or warehouse managers.
In addition, we are working on a number of environmental initiatives. We have a project at the moment working with a company called Cawleys looking at driving down what goes to landfill as far as possible.
Location: The Fresh Olive Company, 74 Long Drive, Greenford, UB6 8LZ
Staff: 100, all full time
Size: Production and storage cover 10,684m2
Operating hours: From 11pm to 5pm, Sunday to Friday
Products: The food manufacturer is focused on producing its core range of products: olives, pestos and antipasti, particularly through its Belazu brand. It also produces a variety of olive oils, vinegars and condiments.
In addition to finished products, the company supplies ingredients for businesses in the catering and foodservice fields, as well as other food manufacturers.
Turnover: £20M a year
Name: Derek Wiles
Career highlights: "A main achievement was being part of the team that designed and built the new factory and process plant. I have been part of the design team, so I feel quite proud that I am part of the foundation stone that has taken us up to the next level. I am proud of the staff, because as well as getting bigger we have been able to keep focused on working as a team."
Domestics: "I have a fiancé and we have been together for 16 years."
Outside work: "We enjoy walking. I am also an avid sports fan: football, cricket, rugby, I'll watch any of those. I also like a bit of shooting."