As a family and group of investors we have been involved in the meat business for years. Then, in 2010, we decided to open up a snack foods firm with our brand, so we established Deli 24.
We make meat and cheese snacks sold as single units on a food-to-go application or a combination of products in a flow-wrap. We are found in service stations and convenience stores in a single format and in various supermarkets where it would be a product for a lunch box.
When we were setting up the business we looked at what we could do to achieve a suitable level of shelf-life for the product. When you put meat and cheese together, you have a shelf-life of just a couple of weeks. However, we are competing in a category where there are individual meat and cheese products with a shelf-life of a couple of months. Therefore we had to look at a technological solution and we came across high pressure processing (HPP).
Overseas success (Return to top)
The HPP technology has been used in other countries for years in a range of meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, dips and fruit juice applications. The process pasteurises produce within its finished packaging. The pressure of up to 6,000 bars of cold water causes lethal cell damage to bacteria, moulds and yeast but leaves the shape and texture of the food – and its packaging – intact. This natural process takes our shelf-life from a couple of weeks up to more than 50 days.
We saw how the HPP technology could add value to our product range, and after discussions with manufacturer NC Hyperbaric and Interfood, we invested in the Wave 6000 machine.
From a brand protection point of view, HPP gives us the confidence that the product will be safe if the customer has the product out of refrigeration for an extended length of time and if there is a lot of manual handling involved in the product make-up itself.
For us, HPP was crucial to our business model to enable us to have products that matched our competitors’ in terms of shelf-life. This also opened up a range of export markets. We already sell through Tesco in Ireland, but we are looking further afield into Europe as well now.
Our philosophy has always been to make a more high-quality-orientated snack range. So, our products have no added water in the meat – and we make all the products from scratch on site – and roll them around a variety of cheeses.
Extension of the range (Return to top)
More recently we have extended the range of meats into a fermented, continental style using salami and chorizo, which go well with a gouda. Our initial products were with ham, pepperoni and chicken, but that has now extended to an eight-strong range of products. In terms of the cheeses, we initially used Cheddar, but now we’re also making products with the gouda too.
At the moment our customers include Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Londis, Budgens and One Stop. We are targeting a broad range because we are trying to deliver a product we think is better than what was previously out there. For example, we use proper cheese – none of it is processed – and we use high-quality ingredients throughout. There seems to be a growing trend for a more adult use and multi-use of snacking. Because our products use real meat and cheese, they are ideal for putting on pizzas or in salads. We were keen for our products not to be pigeon-holed for children. They appeal to kids, but our more spicy products certainly appeal to adults too.
It is important that we get that message to consumers, but it can be hard because we are a family concern – we employ 30 people – and don’t have the advertising power of some of our larger rivals. We rely on communication via customer experience, on-pack messaging and social media. Growing a brand is organic.
That said, we are really pleased with how the business is progressing. In the first year we focused purely on Deli 24 products so we could make sure everything was working well in terms of the HPP and that we could operate to the standards we wanted to set. We had very good growth in that first year and great acceptance of the product from retailers and consumers.
Producing other people’s products (Return to top)
In the second year we started to look at producing other people’s products too and to do some retailer own-label as well. In the last two years we’ve really grown that side of the business alongside our branded goods.
We then started to offer a facility in which processors or retailers can toll their finished products using our HPP kit, on a contract basis, through our Milton Keynes site.
This tolling work has always been a twin development route for us. When we looked around the world at what was being done with HPP, we saw the most common scenario was that a company that invested in HPP created a central hub that brought together a range of firms to use it. This is a common approach because of the expense of the equipment and the expertise needed to operate it. From an engineering perspective, the pressure effectively corrodes the pipework from the inside, so you always need to have an engineering presence on hand for repairs and maintenance. There are not many categories that can justify the expenditure and costs of operation on their own.
People come to us to benefit from HPP for a variety of reasons. One is to rescue a batch of product that could be contaminated from a microbiological point of view. Another is customers who want to extend a product’s shelf-life without altering its physical state by using heat. Then there are customers that think one component of their finished product is limited from a microbiological perspective. So, if they can have that one ingredient ‘cleaner’ it enables them to have an extended shelf-life or to maintain the existing shelf-life yet reduce the use of additives or preservatives. Finally, we work with people from a new product development perspective where they are using the HPP to give a product different characteristics. Our customers range from meat, shellfish and dairy manufacturers to drinks and ambient producers. It is a disparate range of applications, but that shouldn't be a surprise, because the HPP is treating a sealed range of products so there is no risk of cross contamination.
We are pleased with how our twin strategy of HPP manufacturing and tolling services is progressing. We already have planning permission to extend this site – which was purpose-built for us in 2010 – so we can install a second high pressure processor this year.
Other companies are becoming aware of our service and the benefits of HPP, so it’s wise to invest now and strengthen our position as a central hub for this technology.
Factory facts (Return to top)
Location: Dawson Road, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK1 1JN
Products: A range of ready-to-eat cheese and meat snack foods, own-label products and tolling service for other firms.
Customers: Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and a range of convenience stores
Name: Jeff Winter Age: 48
Career Highlights: Establishing and running Deli 24
Domestic: Married with two children
Outside work: I play golf with a handicap of 13.