Our strategy is to continue to grow own-label with existing customers through quality of product and to use the benefits of scale to reinvest in the brand itself.
Operationally we will require further investment in plant. The footprint of the factory has been designed with increased targets in mind. When we took the brave decision to move to Roborough, near Plymouth, in May 2006 from a very small plant in Kingsbridge, south Devon, we inherited vastly more capacity than we needed. But we recognised that to be where we wanted to be we needed the space to expand.
When we first moved here we had two batch friers and one TNA bagging machine. We now have six friers and three packing lines and our capacity is 850kg an hour. If you came back in a year I would be surprised if we didn't have more friers and baggers. We had 40 staff, a fraction of what we have now. We are a significant employer in the Plymouth region and a significant brand in major retailers, of a size where we can hold our own.
We are engaged in major capital projects and are not big enough to outsource those, so managers have been handling these in addition to their day jobs. I'm constantly going around the factory and thinking: "Goodness, that has changed."
One thing we want to do in a short time frame is look at making the same product at improved margins. There are opportunities to improve yield through plant investment and we will look to increase capacity without growing headcount.
We are also looking at expanding into warehouse space and storing product off site using Gregory's Distribution as our primary logistics player. Consolidating stocks with Tesco will be the next step.
Significant growth has come through export. Only two years ago we were exporting to one company in Switzerland, but we took the decision to expand through a specialist exporter. We made £2.5M in exports last year, predominantly in northern Europe. We sell lots in Holland, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan and Russia. We have also become the de facto exporter of licensed products and we continue to see that as an integral part of the business.
We are heavily targeting the Burts brand for growth. We are well known in the south west, but recognise we need to put more support into growing outside our heartland. We got extended distribution with Waitrose across the UK and have started selling through cash and carries and have seen significant impact from that already.
Burts was formed in 1997 and was selling to the south Devon tourist market and local delicatessens and pubs, but around 2004 it started to expand when it began supplying Waitrose and the independent trade. At this stage owners Nick Hurst and Jonty White recognised the business would rapidly outstrip the Kingsbridge site. They took the decision with the move to a factory with a lot of new equipment to employ somebody who had previously run factories going through change.
I joined in December 2005, having been self-employed for a number of years as an interim operations manager. My last contract was with Northern Foods, Trowbridge, Wiltshire. I was dropped in for 18 months to help turn around profitability. Prior to that I had worked on contracts for firms such as Nature's Way Foods and the Fresh Olive Company.
As an interim manager you can be working all over the place, which from a family point of view is not ideal. It's exciting, there's a lot of challenge, it's fast moving and lucrative. But one of the big down sides is that you rarely get to enjoy the fruits of your labours, because once you have made the changes, off you go!
At Northern Foods, for example, I put in a lot of changes to take Trowbridge from an hierarchical organisation to giving people on the shop floor ownership of what they did. But I couldn't stick around to see if any of that got anywhere.
My last role as a full-time employee was in operations at New Covent Garden Soup Company's Harlesden plant in north west London. I have been in the food industry for 25 years. I graduated from Brackenhurst Agricultural College in 1987 and joined United Biscuits' graduate trainee scheme.
Early in 2005, I remember sitting down with my wife. Having been self-employed I was not going back to corporate life and wrote out a lot of requirements for my ideal role. It had to be in food, at the top end of the market, preferably in a business going through rapid change, and I wanted a degree of autonomy. The next week, Food Manufacture came out. Burts had a job ad in there and I thought, 'this is exactly what I wrote down', so I sent my CV off post haste.
My brief was to develop so that we retained our artisanal qualities, while building on world- class manufacturing techniques. We think we have achieved that.
When we moved we were running a factory full of people with no experience of modern manufacturing methods. We had to introduce them to similar, yet different equipment and still make the same quality of product.
One specific issue was scale. We had been producing 50kg of product an hour and all of a sudden we were able to produce 300kg. The challenge was getting people to deal with that. A mistake would be six times bigger than it had been previously. I think also people see lovely shiny equipment and expect if they press the green button it will do everything, but in reality the experience is not like that. For one thing, raw material quality varies through the year.
We needed to reeducate staff. First principles of understanding raw material were as relevant as ever, more so because we were producing much more volume. Only 22–23% of the 300t of potatoes we use weekly is converted into finished product. The rest goes to animal feed.
We use 35t of sunflower oil a week. Last year we got to a size where we could get oil delivered by bulk tanker. We have two 30,000l tanks, which we fill every week. We use high oleic sunflower oil, which develops rancidity characteristics more slowly than standard sunflower oil.
We apply flavouring uniformly using electrostatics. The main crop of potatoes we use are Hermes, plus Lady Claire and Lady Rosetta varieties.
Location: Burts Potato Chips, The Klamp House, Belliver Way, Roborough, Devon, PL6 7BP
Staff: 85, of which 60 are in production and the rest are administrative
Size: 4,181m2, of which 1,486m2 is office space
Operating Hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week
Products: Burts branded, top-end own- label, and licensed potato, parsnip and mixed root crisps, each representing roughly a third of the company's volume. The firm makes licensed crisps for names such as Nando's and Levi Roots.
Output: One million packs a week
Turnover: £15M a year
Name: John Joseph
Career Highlights: "When we moved to our new site in 2006, we had an extremely inexperienced team. I was very proud when we achieved British Retail Consortium accreditation within six months of starting here and this has formed the cornerstone for all subsequent development and growth."
Domestics: "I am married with two boys, aged 12 and 10. We live in south Devon."
Outside work: "I am involved with the junior football team one of my sons plays for. Also, two of my favourite things are walking and beer and Devon is good for both."