Cream of the crop

By Sarah Britton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags New product development Management Product development

Cream of the crop
Sarah Britton reports on the winners of the 2006 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards

The glittering Food Manufacture Excellence Awards ceremony was a roaring success as leading food processors from all over the UK gathered to celebrate their outstanding achievements.

Thirteen category awards were presented in recognition of manufacturing excellence and many more firms were commended for their achievements in this challenging sector.

Company of the Year




The awards were a close run event as manufacturers of all sizes battled it out for a prestigious prize. A record number of high calibre entries, meant the judges were hard pressed to choose an overall winner to crown Company of the year. They finally awarded the coveted title to beverage manufacturer Histogram for its exceptional commitment to continuous improvement and all round excellence.

The firm has made significant progress over the last year, with the complete refurbishment of its manufacturing facility leading to a 40% capacity increase.

The first independent company in the world to achieve the Coca-Cola Quality System standard, the firm boasts a fully integrated system, ensuring both quality and consistency.

An intense focus on efficiency has enabled the manufacturer to reduce customer complaints by a 30%.

The judges praised Histogram's foresight, especially in terms of new product development, and felt that the company's charismatic personality really shone through in its entry.

ambient and general groceries


Premier Grocery Products


Aimia Foods, FWP Matthews, Pasco Spices and Herbs


A great innovation profile, excellent supply chain performance and 34% reduction in customer complaints gave Premier a year to remember.

Judges were particularly impressed with the firm's total productive management system, claiming: "This is a superb example of how companies can problem solve in-house."

The system includes a six-sigma approach to process improvement, which focuses on areas where solutions are not immediately obvious. The technique came into play when the firm wanted to improve the consistency of its vegetable stock cubes and resulted in a weight reduction of 0.3g per cube, saving the firm a whopping £30,000. Greater cube density was achieved in a separate project when the firm introduced air conditioning into the Oxo building, saving £140,000 per year.

Developing healthier products has been a key driver at the company. The research and development team worked hard to reduce sodium levels by 15% in the company's instant dried soup, and the firm was first to market with 98% Fat Free Super Noodle to Go convenience pots.

Meanwhile, Premier's new Bright Ideas incentive scheme encourages staff to become more involved in the company's development by rewarding employees for thinking up ways to make improvements.

"This is a great way to get staff focused on the team-player aspect of working at the company and makes people realise how much they are contributing to the firm's success," said the judges.



Allied Bakeries Ireland


Genesis Breads, Kate's Cakes, Lightbody Celebration Cakes


A finalist in this category last year, Allied Bakeries Ireland (ABI) is certainly a deserving winner. A cut above the rest, the company has reduced energy consumption by 20% by switching to more energy efficient equipment. It has also raised energy awareness through campaigns and competitions.

Judges were impressed with the investments made over the last year, claiming that "real wins" had been achieved. The judges also praised the firm's involvement in benchmarking projects: "This has without doubt contributed to substantial production efficiencies for ABI and highlighted the importance of sharing knowledge, to move the industry forward."

The direct dosing of ingredients to the plants has been made possible thanks to the introduction of a liquid ingredients system. This has reduced manual handling throughout the supply chain and saved £78,000 per year in ingredients costs. "It's very hard to invest and continuously improve in this industry - ABI is doing a brilliant job," said the judges.

The baker has made significant strides in new product development and is targeting the highly competitive snack market with its innovative Kingsmill pancake range.





Aimia Foods, Innocent Drinks, The Serious Food Company


Histogram has excelled in a number of areas to become Food Manufacture's top beverage processor.

The judging panel was particularly impressed with the training work the company had done, with its skills gap initiative. The programme enables each employee to identify training requirements in line with their job functions and career direction. "They're showing the big boys a thing or two," said the judges.

New product development forms a core part of the business. "Histogram supplies an exceptionally wide range of branded and private label drinks from juices to smoothies. For a relatively small company, they've achieved a great deal," said the judges.

The manufacturer has joined forces with London's South Bank University via a Knowledge Transfer Partnership and has just completed successful trials for the introduction of England's first long-life 100% juice with omega-3. The company also creates heart health drink Pomegreat and a smoothie range for children.

In 2005, the company brought in planned preventative maintenance throughout the site, which massively improved line mechanical efficiency (LME) - the firm's key measure of productivity on the lines. The LME has more than doubled since last year thanks to significant investment in downstream equipment.

CHILLED READY meals and prepared foods


Southern Salads


Freshway Foods, Greencore Prepared Foods, Yorkshire Fresh Salads


A new supplier quality assurance program; dedicated new product development department; and a move into fruit options have all contributed to a 30% increase in turnover for Southern Salads.

Over 2005/2006, the company developed a range of glazed prepared vegetables versatile enough to be used in salads, pizza toppings or sandwich fillings. The firm has also come up with vegetable skewers and healthy snacking ideas for adults and children.

"Southern Salads has impressed across all criteria and made a tremendous effort with its labour force," said the judges. Staff satisfaction is achieved through regular surveys and the introduction of employee newsletters and needs analysis meetings. A flexible shift pattern ensures that staff can spend time with their families and an employee of the month scheme keeps up staff morale.

Dedicated hygiene crews implement extensive auditing to ensure that Southern Salads maintains an impeccable level of food safety and an in-house micro lab means the company gets fast results.

In order to reduce waste and improve efficiency, the company has started using a computerised stock control system. Another programme has been introduced for forecasting raw materials and finished products.



Richmond Ice Cream


Ming Foods, Snowbird Foods, Spurhill / Mount Tai Foods


Innovation has been key to the growth of Richmond Ice Cream with the recent launch of healthier ice cream brand Skinny Cow as well as own-label ranges with improved nutritional profiles.

Richmond explains that the key selling point with the Skinny Cow brand was to avoid any of the baggage associated with weight control products. This has made the brand truly accessible to all consumers - not just dieters. Skinny Cow now has a 19.9% share of the healthy ice cream sector and 45% of its sales are deemed to be incremental to the category.

The manufacturer has also launched a range of ice creams for Marks & Spencer using superfood ingredients. The products are designed for the retailer's Eat Well range and were developed following a strict set of guidelines to control levels of fat and sugar.

The judges felt that this was a great entry and applauded the company's efforts. "The work Richmond has done to improve traceability and staff satisfaction is outstanding - this is clearly a fantastic company," they said.

The firm has revised its employee handbook to communicate a more positive message to staff. Richmond encourages its people to: display pride and passion; delight customers; drive performance; deliver pace and quality; grow talent and capability; and protect and enhance the firm's reputation.



Yeo Valley Organic


Dairy Farmers of Britain, Nestlé UK


The judges approved of the firm's moves to minimise its environmental impact by local sourcing, recycling and redesigning the manufacturing process to reduce energy usage. "Environmental management is an area in which all manufacturers must push for excellence and Yeo Valley has definitely got the right idea," they said.

All of the company's milk is sourced locally from about 80 south-west organic farms in order to save on food miles and support the local community. Fruit is also processed locally and arrives in conserve format on returnable trays, which saves on packaging waste. The trays delivering the company's product to retail are also environmentally friendly. They come in a cardboard flat-pack for transport efficiency and the boards at the top of each pallet (which allow the pallets to be stacked in transit) are returned to the supplier.

The company has also cut back on energy usage by adopting a 're-gen' system to minimise the heat energy required in the pasteurisation process.

Judges were particularly impressed with the amount of work the company has done on increasing the amount of fruit in its children's range. The new version contains 10% less sugar and 50% more fruit and the firm now has a 10% share of the children's yoghurt market.

Meat and poultry


Lloyd Maunder


Brown Brothers Manufacturing, Cranswick Convenience Foods, James T Blakeman & Co


Improvements in hygiene training and reporting and a three-fold increase in income generated from waste, all contributed to a successful year for Lloyd Maunder. An overhaul of the firm's waste management system saw its miscellaneous waste (items not recycled) reduced from 917t in 2003 to 81t in 2005, as it wised-up to the benefits of recycling.

The judges noted that the company had done great work with the farmers which supply it and claimed that it was an important player in organic farming.

"The firm has done well to gain the trust and respect of farmers by training them and making them feel part of a team," said the judges.

All new farmers joining the producer group are expected to take part in an NVQ scheme developed in association with Bicton and Duchy colleges. The courses combine farm-based lectures and demonstrations, with evening meetings and farm assessments.

"I think this is the best way to ensure that there is a firm practical base for future work with this part of the farming community," said Chris Shepherd, training and operations manager at Duchy College.



Young's Seafood


The Big Prawn Company, Lyons Seafoods


By focussing its marketing on tackling the consumer negatives and leveraging fish's natural category benefits, Young's has contributed, not only to the brand's growth, but growth of the fish category as a whole. "Young's is a fantastic company - an absolute leader," said the judges.

The company identified three barriers to overcome when presenting consumers with fish: people lacked confidence when choosing fish and were unsure of the correct way to handle it; they didn't know what each species could be used for and how to cook it; and people disliked the smell of fish.

Young's has worked hard to counteract these problems and make fish more accessible to retailers and consumers alike through excellent new product development and marketing strategies.

The founding of the company's sustainability group is a sign of its commitment to environmental management. It makes a concerted effort to use Marine Stewardship Council approved fish where possible and has strict rules in place to increase the sustainability of various fisheries.

Judges were particularly impressed with Young's boat-to-plate traceability system, which helps fishermen to get a better deal with higher earnings and a better quality catch.

judges' special award


Innocent Drinks


While the category winners are chosen for excellence across a range of criteria, the Judges' Special Award recognises the entrant demonstrating outstanding achievement in one particular area of activity. This year, the judges were blown away by Innocent's unwavering commitment to new product development.

The last year has seen Innocent double in size; increase its market share by 48%; and launch 18 new smoothie recipes.

"Innocent meets excellence in terms of new product development and it has achieved a great deal in a short time," said the judges.

In 2005, the firm assessed the children's juice market and discovered that the top five selling branded juice drinks all contained less than 15% juice, as well as additives and preservatives.

There was a clear gap in the market for a healthier product, so the company ran focus groups in schools asking kids what they were looking for in a fruit drink. The research told the firm which flavours were most popular and that more than half of kids don't like 'bits'.

Innocent then set about developing the first ever totally natural fruit drink for kids and packaged it in a wedge-shaped carton so that it could fit easily into lunch boxes. Juices were created in Oranges, mangoes and pineapples, and Apples and blackcurrants variants, each containing one portion of the government's five-a-day fruit and veg recommendation. The range also contains 100% of the vitamin C recommended daily allowance and is now worth £10M.

The drinks are available in 180ml cartons and the company expects to have sold 23M units by the end of the year.

The judges felt that Innocent had done a fantastic job and hailed it as "an industry role model"



Moy Park


Cambrian Training Co, Müller UK


Having worked for Moy Park for over 10 years, Shauna Mackin enrolled as an apprentice and has since assisted the firm in making substantial production savings.

When new equipment at the firm meant that labels were failing to adhere to packs, Mackin calculated the loss of trays and product per shift.

She noticed a very fine film of moisture on a completed tray and brought it to the attention of the production team. They reduced line speed very slightly and changed the type of film, saving the firm over £31,000 per week.

"She showed good examples of problem solving on the job, which reflect real productivity gains for the company," said the judges. This is an excellent achievement by Mackin, currently not far off completing her modern apprenticeship programme, and a great recognition of achievement in the workplace.

Mackin's dedication to the apprenticeship programme saw her progress to a supervisory role within her department and she was recently interviewed for a trainee management role.

"Shauna's commitment to learning, training and shop floor skills have not only enhanced company productivity, but have allowed this young lady to attain maturity, self esteem and assurance," said modern apprenticeship coordinator Noel Millar. It has also increased her chances of achieving a prodigious career within any area of the food and drink industry, he added.

Diversity in recruitment


Lightbody Celebration Cakes


Snowbird Foods, Swizzels Matlow


Provision for lone parents, older workers, special needs and ethnic minorities has seen Lightbody Celebration Cakes' staff turnover reduced by 72% over the past 12 months.

The company works with government associations and support bodies recruiting disabled people and helping them adjust to their new working environment.

The firm also provides support for an increasing number of foreign and ethnic minority employees. Translators are available to help with any communication difficulties throughout the workplace, as well as during recruitment and induction. Lightbody works with the local council to provide English language courses on site, which can result in employees obtaining a formal qualification from a local college.

The company has an occupational health department to support and monitor the workforce via: health screenings during recruitment; long term sickness management; and general health surveillance, such as hearing and eye tests.

"Lightbody clearly demonstrated commitment from senior management in the company to really address diversity in recruitment," said the judges. "A wide range of initiatives brought real business benefits."

Productivity through skills


Richmond Ice Cream


Nestlé UK, Sun Valley Foods


The introduction of its own training model, the Richmond Vocational Qualification (RVQ), and tailored programmes for senior and middle management has helped the company to achieve 96% manufacturing efficiency.

The RVQ replaces the NVQ programme, which the company felt was failing to provide employees with the key skills needed to manufacture the product range.

The new qualification allows staff to move between different areas, including production, dispatch and plant mix. It gives employees the opportunity to increase their pay by up to £1,000 per year.

"This is an excellent initiative based on defined productivity measures across the company," said the judges. "Tailoring training to the individual's requirements is paying massive business and personal dividends."

Richmond has also introduced a mentoring scheme whereby a senior management team can help middle management to develop their skills. The mentoring period lasts for a minimum of 12 months, followed by a formal review. The relationship may continue into the next year provided both parties are in agreement.

While middle managers benefit from accelerated learning, mentors gain a better understanding of the talent within the business.

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