Cooked ingredients company Beacon Foods produces… roasted and chargrilled vegetables and fruit, relishes, chutneys and compotes for the food manufacturing and retail industry. The company’s MD Edward Gough talks to Marco’s MD Murray Hilbourne about the challenges facing the food industry and how investment in Marco’s Trac-IT system is helping Beacon Foods meet these challenges

Q:Where do Beacon Foods fit in the Food Sector with regard to client base?

A:We supply specialist food ingredients to all leading food manufacturers, coffee shops, restaurants and fast food outlets. Our products end up in a diverse range of finished goods including sandwiches, pizzas, ready meals, desserts, drinks and even some cosmetics.

Q:What are the main challenges facing Beacon in today’s environment?

A:Although we are still a relatively small family business, we are unusually complex in what we offer to our customers in terms of products and processes. The majority of our products are bespoke for one customer. Such products usually have a short shelf life and have to be produced at very short notice. It is therefore imperative that we maintain our very high level of customer service.

Q:There have been some high profile casualties in the food sector in recent months – is this of concern for Beacon with regard to your existing client base?

A:We monitor our customers extremely closely. We tend to supply the majority of our customers on a daily or weekly basis and as a result we are able to keep a close eye on them. Historically we do not tend to have too many issues with this.

Q:Do you think UK food companies in general are more focussed on short term profits rather than longer term sustainability when it comes to capital investment?

A:It’s often difficult to judge what other businesses are doing but it seems to me that many companies struggle to make enough margin to be able to re-invest. Since we started in 1993 we have continually re-invested profits in the factory equipment, staff and technology. This is something we intend to continue with because we see huge benefits from doing it. We have had a couple of consolidation years and now we are ready for more growth.

Q:Are there technology investments you have made, or are making, to help you achieve your goals?

A:We are continuing to invest in the Marco System. We are seeing great benefits with this, in terms of yield and recipe control and our customers are hugely impressed with the detail of information that we have – I see this continuing.

Q:Have these investments changed your forward strategy and decision processes?

A:We have been working with Marco for over six years and see important savings and efficiencies with the system. For our size of company we have invested a significant amount of money into this system and we would not be doing this if we did not see any real benefits.

A:We thought we did initially, but once we started to work with the Marco team and realised what the system could do for us, the project just got bigger and bigger and bigger.

Q:Can you explain briefly the functionality of these technology investments at Beacon?

A:We have traceability all the way through the plant – from goods in to despatch. We have real time information on where a certain product is in the process together with ccp checks, recipe yields, stock information and customer order information. Marco links into our accounts package so it does all really fit together extremely well – it is a key tool in our business.

[The Trac-IT system takes advantage of portable data acquisition and wireless technologies including PDAs and PDTs. Drivers have portable hand held devices in their lorries to update delivery information and the system can also manage critical vehicle fleet attributes. Further stock control and warehouse management capabilities will bring additional process control advantages.]

Q:What are the key deliverables from the investments and how has it changed your manufacturing process?

A:Customer service – we have all the information we require to give our customers an unbeatable service.

Cost control – we are continually monitoring yields and can immediately react to any seasonal product variances.

We monitor factory volume throughputs to make sure that we are staffing areas correctly and efficiently. The Stock Control System ensures product is used in the correct rotation, avoiding waste.

Q:What has the reaction been from staff and operators to the new technologies and equipment?

A:It has been very positive…Because our business is so unusual in the amount of different products and processes we do on a daily basis it is critical that our staff have a say in what, how and why we do what we do.