Food firm's microwaveable investment

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food

There's room to expand production at CP Foods' site
There's room to expand production at CP Foods' site
Taste Inc microwaveable snacks were the brainchild of Adrian Wilson. He tells Gary Scattergood how they are broadening CP Foods’ customer base

Key points

The Taste Inc brand is my baby. I’ve worked for CP Foods for 18 months now and I wrote a business plan for the brand before I joined. I said if I come and work for you, I’d really like to do this. And they said yes.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn't have a name for it or any of the branding or anything like that, I put that out to the marketing experts, but the plan for a range of chilled, microwaveable snacks, burgers and subs was very much in place and the idea has been born.

We now have two factories here at Newmarket. The first one, built in 2005, is concerned with ready meals and cooked meats but we’ve spent £4M on a second one, which went live in April this year, to accommodate the Taste Inc brand, so it has been a major investment.

In addition to running the brand, I’m also the head of all the UK manufacturing operations. We are lucky because we are part of a major global conglomerate, based in Thailand, which trades in 24 countries around the world. The annual turnover is over $8bn and CP Foods UK has an annual turnover of over £120M.

The backing we have got from the Thai Board for Taste Inc has been brilliant. They are very proud of brands. Any good food manufacturer wants to see its brands on a supermarket shelf, rather that the retailers’. Not only have they backed us in terms of the idea, but they’ve backed us financially with all the marketing activity behind it.

We do a lot of own-label products for the major multiples, but now we’re bringing in more branded products it requires a different mindset and different controls. You can damage a brand quicker than you can build one so you have to make sure everyone is totally focused. In addition to the factory, we have had to invest in training, systems, technology and people. We've taken on an extra 100 staff to work on Taste Inc.

Changes (Return to top)

It’s been a change for the site, because branded isn’t something we’ve done a lot of. There is the CP brand, Authentic Asia, which is ready meals that go into the major multiples. But branded goods is an increasing area of focus for us now, with Taste Inc driving the strategy forward.

Over the last couple of years we’ve seen our markets become more and more challenging so that’s led us to take a strategic decision to broaden our customer base and product offerings onto the market and Taste Inc is just one example of this. However, our growth plan isn't just focused on the UK, we are also looking at the Irish and European markets.

We believe that micro-snacking is a great fit for CP Foods, not least because of the research, development and protein offerings that we have available to us. If you run it right, it’s good all-year-round volume and the potential is huge. And that’s what any food factory wants.

We are absolutely delighted with how Taste Inc has been received. I really wanted us to come up with something fresh. I have worked in this category for some time now and there is obviously competition in the market, but that is largely manufacturing flamed beef products and hot wheels, which are quite boyish. I always thought there was a wider pool of customers that could be attracted to the category.

Even though we have beef offerings in the 15-strong range, we have a lot of chicken products, which is more of a unisex protein. We had to make sure we could widen the customer base.

Market research (Return to top)

All the market research we undertook told us that a lot of women said they’d buy something like this for their sons or husbands, but said chicken options would appeal more to them.

One of the big findings to come from the research was that people wanted us to be upfront about the calorie count, so we have displayed it on the front of the pack. There are no hidden nasties here, we are proud to state that these products have fewer than 500 calories and that the chicken is not reformed, it is a whole muscle cut. We are really keen to stress its healthy credentials and its taste, because people don’t expect it from a microwaveable product.

We’ve been on the market for eight months and we’ve done remarkably well considering our major marketing drive hasn’t started yet. There’s no better test than just getting it on the shelf and seeing how it goes. At the minute we’re doing well over 150,000 units a week.

We are always looking at improving and extending the range. We’ve got a new team in place looking at new products and new flavours and we’ve already made a few little tweaks to things like the packaging.

In terms of the production process, it isn’t rocket science. We’ve got Multivac production lines with plenty of space for more expansion. There are two lines in there at the minute, one of which is a very high speed line, and they cost a lot of money. We are looking at robotics and automation for the high care areas at the moment in a £500,000 study.

Improvements (Return to top)

At the moment, we are still manually making up the products and there are plenty of ways of improving on that, especially at the back end. However, we are keen to ensure we don’t over-complicate things. We’ve got to keep manufacturing as simple as possible because this is a price-sensitive product. If you over-complicate you are putting costs in and you open yourself up to mistakes. The highest retail price of the Taste Inc product is £1.99 so we have to keep that in mind.

We are still quite paperwork heavy so we are rapidly moving towards a paperless environment, especially for the technical teams. We are also making big strides in terms of staff training and have recently embarked on NVQ training for all staff on site.

Also, with modern food and drink manufacturing, traceability is crucial. We've invested a great deal on technical systems. The technical team now has hand-held iPad Touches, so if anything comes in that doesn’t look right they can take a picture of it and email it straight to the suppliers. They can also call up picture specifications for everything on screen.

I’m hands-on, I’m not a pen pusher at all. When we were launching the products I was in the factory all the time and I’m still in there a lot now. You can’t do a job like this if you don’t know how things are working and make sure you have an input on the ground.

We have really set up the whole operation for the future and, we believe, for greater expansion. The Taste Inc brand has been a big commitment for the company and we are determined to build further on its initial success.

Hear Wilson explain how building the new £4M factory helped drice CP Foods' move into branded products in our exclusive podcast.

Factory facts (Return to top)

Location: Fordham Road, Newmarket, Suffolk, CB8 7NR

Staff: 150, with another 100 for the Taste Inc brand.

Size: 929m2

Operating Hours: Seven days a week, 363 days a year, 12-hour production cycles.

Products: A range of cooked meats, ready meals and the Taste Inc brand: a range of chilled, microwaveable snacks


Name: Adrian Wilson

Age: 37

TITLE: Business Unit Manager and head of UK manufacturing

OUTSIDE WORK: I’m married and we have a young baby, so that takes up most of my time.

Related topics: People & Skills, Chilled foods

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