Frecco startled me when I came to it in October last year: it is a very small business in the sense that it is being revamped and is starting almost from the beginning.
It was bought by the current management firm in 2009 and they wanted to start from the ground-up.
I had been in food manufacturing for about 30 years with one firm House of Dorchester which is all my working life, before coming to Frecco Food & Beverage in Southampton.
House of Dorchester changed from a 20% chocolate business to 100% chocolate business in the last 12 years. I was coming to that age where, if I was going to make a change, then now was the time. So I decided to make a break.
There was nothing set up. I just left my position as logistics/senior manager. People find it hard to believe that I left a full-time position and an income without anything else to go to. But I decided it was time to look around and see what I could do for another firm.
Family-type business (Return to top)
What I was looking for was a family-type business, which you could say Frecco is, in a sense, because it is relatively small.
But as a company we’ve stripped Frecco right back to the start and we’re making sure everything is covered from the paperwork to the staffing, training and risk assessment.
At the moment we have around 20 members of staff, but it’s about keeping the firm viable and not just throwing loads of staff in there as soon as we see a little bit of growth; that could cause problems. We’re playing on the safe side of business all of the time.
We currently work on a one-shift pattern and I would like to go up to a two-shift pattern over a 24/7 operation. I would eventually like to move on to bigger premises as we take on more customers and improve the business.
Three key products (Return to top)
Frecco has three key products at the moment. One is our drinks range, which is a frozen blend of flavoured purées made from all-natural fruits, herbs and spices; our KiddieCubes, which are 100% natural and organic frozen baby food purées; and a range for dysphagic sufferers. We also have a soups and sauces range, which is already up and running.
The drinks, which are called Freccos, are aimed at caterers and restaurants, as well as café bars. We produce about eight pallets of Freccos a month, with about 9,800 Freccos on each pallet and it’s about £500,000 in turnover.
The KiddieCubes, which are packaged into frozen portion-controlled cubes, will be aimed at the public and we’re hoping to go through the main selling avenues of the supermarkets after their launch this month (March).
People who have trouble with swallowing – so in hospitals and care homes – will be the target of our dysphagic range. It’s something we’re still developing at the moment, but it’s a gap spotted in the market by the Frecco development team.
There are some poor quality foods in health care, I think. Some dysphagic ranges are packed with added salts and sugars and a lot of them have the vegetables blitzed with the proteins into one product.
We are working on getting the balance between the proteins and vegetables right for our range. The end product would look a bit like army rations, where you get your trays with sections for meat and vegetables. So the meat would not be mixed with the vegetables.
As with all of our products, the dysphagic range would be made from all natural products, cooked at lower temperatures and then frozen.
£1.5M turnover (Return to top)
Across Frecco we’re putting out about 250,000 units a year and turning over £1.5M on a 929m2 site. There’s the possibility to take over another 557m2 quite easily and the factory has been built for a food business, hopefully allowing us to grow year-on-year.
Our ethos is around high-quality, fresh and natural food and drinks – the key selling point is natural and not knocking out the goodness.
It’s important to play on natural because we are looking as a business to get the best quality to the consumer. You take a lot of the tinned soups and they’re filled with salts or sugars and you can taste it. We wanted to give consumers a natural alternative.
We source ingredients as locally as possible and always try to keep within the UK, but there are things like bananas for the KiddieCubes that have to come from South America.
All of our products are frozen. We freeze to keep the naturalness within the products and if we weren't freezing them we would have to add sugars and salts to preserve them.
The food products are cooked at low temperatures, within the safety limits of 120°C for a couple of minutes, and then put into moulds before they are frozen. The drinks are never cooked and are sold as individual frozen portions.
Our three key products went through the development and testing stage last year and are being pushed to customers this year. 2014 is going to be our big push to get the products out there and build on the business, growing it as far as we can.
Flexible output (Return to top)
The food and drink market is difficult for medium businesses like Frecco at the moment as there’s a lot of innovation out there.
One way we’re getting around this is through our ability to operate on a small or large scale. We have facilities to produce from a scale of 300kg to 300t by using two sizes of cooking vessels.
It’s essential to be able to work in larger and smaller batches, because you can deal with the supermarkets and you can deal with smaller customers as well. That way we can gather more and more customers to have a steady stream.
Large customers can be very hard to deal with and it's not sensible to put all of your eggs in one basket. Say you were dealing with Tesco and they then decided to have a revamp, you could lose a large chunk of your business.
Also, if they know they’re your only customer, they could be pushing your price because they know you’ve got to bend to whatever they want so you’ve got to have a mix in there.
Really, it’s sensible management in your working relationships and not just relying on one big customer to bring in all of your work, otherwise you will be putting the future of your business at risk.
Factory facts (Return to top)
Location: Westwood Centre, 10 Nutwood Way, Calmore Industrial Estate, Totton, Southampton SO40 3SZ
Staff: Approximately 20
Products: Frecco drinks, KiddieCubes and dysphagic range of food
Customers: Love Smoothies, Air Culinaire and Newlyns Farm Shop
Name: Paul Barney Age: 48
Title: Production and operations manager
Domestics: Married 25 years with two sons
Outside work: I support Southampton FC and love going to games with my sons.
View our exclusive photo gallery to learn more about Frecco’s production facilities and why having a mix of customers is better for business.