Me and My Factory

Young veg processing boss learns to win team’s confidence

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Troy Foods commercial director James Kempley explains how he quickly learnt to win his team’s confidence
Troy Foods commercial director James Kempley explains how he quickly learnt to win his team’s confidence

Related tags: Vegetable

Joining vegetable processing manufacturer Troy Foods as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, commercial director James Kempley had to learn quickly to win over some staff.

Troy Foods is the UK’s leading vegetable processing manufacturer and seller of branded salads. The company was started in 1921 as a potato merchant by my great-grandfather, John Kempley, and is now run by my father David.

I joined the business five years ago, when I was 18. You may think it was a strange choice for someone who got straight ‘A’s at A-level not to go to university, but I genuinely had no idea what I wanted to do. I could have taken a degree, spent £40,000, and three years later still have no career path – so I think I made the right choice.

Rather than going straight into an office-based role, I started on the factory floor – and it was the best decision I ever made. I learned about the business from the bottom up, and by doing so, it means people can’t pull the wool over my eyes when it comes to the day-to-day operation.

However, when staff found out I was the boss’s son and I was effectively handed the job, earning the respect of some was a challenge. I got through that by having broad shoulders, working hard and respecting everybody.

After my time in the factory, I spent two years in purchasing – which gave me a great understanding of our raw material profiles. I know how the price mechanisms work and where the fluctuations in seasonality are. In other words – when to buy, and when not to buy.

Now, I’m the commercial director, looking after our relationships with customers and suppliers – many of the latter being based in Yorkshire.

History of Troy Foods (back to top)

The company was formerly three businesses – vegetable specialist Potatopeal, Springfields Salads, and cooked meat firm Cranborne Foods, which we eventually sold.

In 1999, the businesses were branded as Troy Foods – Troy being the name of the road where our original factory, in the Leeds suburb of Horsforth, was situated.

Today, we have three sites situated a few miles apart on the southern edge of the city. This factory makes prepped salads, while our site on George Mann Way manufactures prepacked vegetables. We also have a distribution hub close by, which we opened in June 2016.

Factory facts

  • LOCATION:​ Royds Farm Rd, Leeds, West Yorkshire. LS12 6DX (salads factory)
  • SIZE:​ 3,250m2​ (salads factory), 2,700m2​ (vegetable factory), 2,800m2​ (distribution centre)
  • STAFF:​ 603
  • TURNOVER:​ £51M
  • MAIN PRODUCTS:​ Prepared vegetables, dressed salads, mayonnaise, dressings and dips. Branded products include the s:a:l:a:d:s, m:a:y:o and v:e:g:e:t:a:b:l:e:s ranges.
  • MAIN CUSTOMERS:​ More than 60 customers in total. Retailers include Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland, Farm Foods, Heron, B&M and Poundland. Troy also supplies to Bakkavor, Greencore, Samworth Brothers and Kerry Foods, among others.
  • PRODUCTION LINES:​ Seven lines at the salads site, including three mayonnaise lines and a dip line, The vegetables site has four bulk lines – three potato lines, and a carrot line. There is also an onion line, and other preparation rooms for miscellaneous veg.
  • FACTORY OUTPUT:​ 900t to 1,400t a week (from summer to winter) at the vegetables site, and 350t to 1,000t a week (from winter to summer) at the salads site.

We took a punt when we opened the salads site 10 years ago, as at the time we needed to fill 90% of its capacity. However, we foresaw the huge growth in prepared salads, and this year our turnover passed £50M for the first time.

Our retail customer-base has historically leaned towards the discounters, and we have grown with them. However, there is still plenty of growth coming from the food-to-go market. My generation just do not cook. Instead, they’ll buy a sandwich from Pret, or a salad from One Stop.

There’s also a huge opportunity in retail with prepared vegetable packs. At the moment, we only do one product line, for Lidl – but the prepacked veg market is in decline, while prepped veg is going the other way.

Opportunity in prepared vegetables (back to top)

You only have to compare Marks & Spencer’s prepped veg range today with what it offered three years ago.

We’ve around 60 customers, 45% of which are retailers, and 35% manufacturers, with the rest being wholesale and foodservice.

It’s a good mix, but within that, our salads sales split is 90% retail, 10% foodservice – while our vegetable operation is 90% manufacture, 10% foodservice and retail.

I’ve challenged our sales team to try to get these better balanced. One of our benefits is that we operate from a very low cost-base.

A lot of our competitors are large plcs with equally large overheads. We are a family business, and we can make decisions very quickly. If someone comes to me with a really good idea, I’m able to say ‘let’s do it’ instantly.

Traditionally, we’ve been an own-label producer, but in recent years we’ve worked hard to develop our branded s:a:l:a:d:s range. We recently got the range into two Morrisons depots, which is a retailer first for us.

We also launched a m:a:y:o range at the start of the year. Again, our mayonnaise has been historically focused toward own-label, for retail and for other manufacturers. We looked at it and saw that these businesses were making good money from it, so we thought why can’t we?

We brought in a guy from one of our competitors, and he has done a tremendous job in driving growth in the mayonnaise brand. Brands have a great hold over people – if people like a branded product, they’ll come back for it.

Growing NPD opportunity (back to top)

A couple of years ago, we only had one person in new product development (NPD). Today, we’ve got five – and they are constantly innovating and are always presenting to retailers.

Whereas historically you would just go and tender for a product, today, retailers very much rely on their supply base to tell them what products they should be listing. So, having an NPD team gives us a massive opportunity to get products onto retailers’ shelves.

We want to be a £100M company in five years – and I believe we will be. But to achieve that, we need to move out of our vegetable factory. The site is tired and close to capacity.

In two or three years, we’ll be making veg somewhere else. Leeds is very short for space, but we are determined to stay in the area. Our workforce is here, and so are our other two sites – and we want them to be as close as possible.

A business is nothing without its people, and one of my key priorities has been staff morale. I treat everyone equally, and make an effort to get to know everyone, because at the end of the day I want people to want to come to work.

That principle applies to me as well. If I didn’t want to do this, I could just stop and do something else. My father has been brilliant in that regard. He lets me get on with it, and gives me enough rope to succeed or fail.

Don’t get me wrong – when I mess up, I know about it. But I like to think I’ve made a pretty good fist of things so far.

Meanwhile, watch Troy Foods commercial director explain how he plans to help grow the business and the obstacles that need to be overcome in achieving them, in our exclusive video interview. 

Personal

  • NAME:​ James Kempley
  • AGE:​ 23
  • DOMESTICS:​ I have a girlfriend.
  • OUTSIDE WORK:​ I work a lot, so don’t have a massive amount of leisure time. I like to go away at weekends, and especially enjoy golf trips. I’m also a massive Leeds United fan – hopefully, this will be the year they return to the Premier League.
  • GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT:​ That’s easy – it’s getting the respect of our staff. I can’t express how difficult it is to earn the respect of a group of people who think you’ve just been handed a job. It’s bloody hard.
  • ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF:​ Try not to place too much emphasis on what everyone is telling you, and spend more time working things out for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, listening is very important, but you’ve got to make your own mind up on things at some point. It took too long for me to start forming my own opinions – but trust me, I’m full of them now!

Related topics: Fresh produce, People & Skills

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