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Fishy business

By Rod Addy, 30-Jan-2012

Related topics: People, Seafood

The Paramount 21 story started for me 10 years ago when I was invited down to its former site in Brixham, Devon (I was working for a Marks & Spencer supplier at the time).

The company had done what it could with the building, but it was fairly archaic and not very well run. But some things caught my attention: it had been making a whitebait product very well. It also had a multi-head weigher and a spiral freezer. It was these things that changed my mind about the business.

The md Ali Hannaford and I chatted and I came on board. In the company I was working for, I was in among a lot of bureaucracy. It was difficult to push any decisions through without going through a load of directors. Now I run something by Ali and she gives me a decision straight away.

We smartened Brixham up and rejigged the ways it stored stuff so we produced more to order than to stock, which was more the way of working I was used to anyway. But the site was too small really and it was sinking into the sea. We had been looking for another premises for a while when this one raised its head.

Ali's father bought an acre and a half of land here and put a 929m2 factory on it in 1985. He sold that business to Hillsdown Holdings in 1988. Six months after that they shut the factory down and got rid of everyone, including Ali, who was working for her dad. After a few changes of ownership, the plant was bought by Yeo Valley.

Years later, Ali was on the board of [regional food group] South West Food & Drink and heard that Yeo Valley was moving to a new factory from the old site in Newton Abbot. She met Yeo Valley's boss Tim Mead and bought that site. She got a good deal. She agreed to move Paramount 21 into it just as Yeo Valley was moving out.

It took 14 or 15 months to secure the site, but Ali finally did in November 2006 and moved into it in February 2007. So she managed to get back the site that her father had owned 18 years after he was kicked out of it. We had a 16-week changeover and only shut for one week. We were still running Brixham while the team were busy changing what had been an ice cream factory into what you see today.

Since then we have installed four spiral freezers here, in addition to a Torry freezer that we transferred from Brixham and we now have five production lines. We have been very good at picking up second hand equipment over the years. I don't think people look enough at that channel.

Then in November 2010 we completed a major factory investment: a 1,000m2 factory extension. We had help with funding from a Marine Management Organisation grant. That was another 16-week project that was handled by Dawson Manufacturing & Engineering, which did a good job.

Then we agreed that we wanted a frying line and we went to work trying to get that installed in the factory. The biggest stumbling block there was insurance. Insurance companies get very jittery when you start talking about flames and hot oil. The frying line was commissioned in February 2011.

Since then we have been focusing on pieces of machinery and equipment that might make a difference to production. We put in the Stevens system [which is about recipe control and prompts staff to use a list of precise measures of ingredients and avoid waste] in May last year. Yield and waste are a big focus for us and it's such a good system to use. We put a Reiser forming machine in last year and are currently installing a further former from CFS Products.

Equipment-wise there is very little further planned. I have been told I am to milk the assets for the next three to four years!

We are in the process of strengthening our production management team with the introduction of a planner/job costings person. The factory will increase by a further four people as volumes grow on the frying line.

We are working on our ISO 14001 environmental management standard. We already operate four 10-hour days, which limits the utilities we use and the environmental team meet monthly and set targets for the main areas of waste, water and electricity. We are constantly monitoring our key performance indicators which cover all the usual ones such as line efficiency; line utilisation; yields; engineering and production downtime; and labour costs.

We achieved big savings last year, focusing on things like whether conveyors were switched off when workers went for a break and better waste disposal. With the help of the British Frozen Food Federation we reviewed our contract with our energy provider and embarked on a temperature monitoring project.

We run a subsidised minibus from Brixham, which has enabled us to keep our core staff and cut petrol used by individual cars. We send all our waste to biofuel and recycle materials such as cardboard and plastics.

We have started to vertically integrate our supply chain by incorporating a fresh fish processing site in Cornwall that feeds us raw material that has been bought on local markets. This has the advantage of being able to keep our costs low. We are also trying to move more of our supplier base into sustainably caught fish accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council. That way if our customers ask for a mackerel fish cake we can offer a sustainably sourced option.

We offer new ingredients in line with culinary trends. On new product development (NPD), every six months we kick off the season analysing the markets. We have also launched the stage-gate NPD process, funnelling down through ideas to practical implementation.

We have three development chefs on site. We have three products coming out this month: a shepherdess pie [a healthier version of a shepherd's pie]; a Moroccan tagine and a high- quality vegetarian sausage. 80% of what we make is fish-based and 20% is vegetarian. We had a soft launch of a mackerel fish cake in December. We can turn products around quickly because we have everything we need on site.

The NPD team attend meetings with the production team, enabling us to know that a particular product will fit perfectly with a particular piece of equipment.

The new 2012 salt guidelines have already started to affect NPD. The document the Department of Health sent through to manufacturers was pretty thick and there's an element of confusion over which categories products fall into. We are working with suppliers on what we can do to meet salt levels.

Factory facts

Location: Paramount 21, Old Newton Road, Heathfield, Newton Abbot, Devon, TQ12 6RA

Staff: 34, all full time, not including directors, NPD chefs and back office employees

Size: 2,508m2

Operating hours: 7am to 6pm, Monday to Thursday

Products: A range of frozen food items, such as bagged breaded foods, including whitebait, goujons, mushrooms and scampi; breaded and uncoated fish cakes and vegetarian cakes; en croutes; tarts; ready meals; fish pies; flash fried products, such as fish portions; fish fillets. 80% of these carry the Paramount brand, the rest are own label. The majority of the business is dedicated to foodservice, but it does supply retailers with a small amount of products.

Output: 2,049t

Turnover: £7.2M

Personal

Name: Steve Lamont

Age: 47

Career highlights: "Two stand out: undertaking the move from Brixham to Heathfield and taking my mum and dad around the factory for the first time."

Domestics: "I am married, with two daughters and one grandchild."

Outside work: "Walking the coastal paths with my wife, Cheryl, and our labrador, Murphy, after which we always seem to find ourselves enjoying traditional pub grub washed down with a couple of cheeky halves."