Innovation, service and expertise are key ingredients for success at Scunthorpe-based TSC Foods, where the new products and new business just keep on increasing. Becky Done tries to keep pace.
If you have recently dined at any of the top five pub-restaurant companies, any of the high street restaurant brands or have completed your weekly food shop at Sainsbury’s, Morrisons or Waitrose, chances are you will have come across a soup, sauce, dip or dressing manufactured by TSC Foods. The company, which is located on a single site in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire and has a workforce of 280, counts the major pub and restaurant chains among its clients, alongside an impressive selection of major food retailers.
Supplying to the pub and restaurant trade in particular has been a major driver of the company’s success over the past few years. The nature of the food service industry is that pubs and restaurants typically re-vamp their menus every three months or so in order to meet the expectations of their customer base – and this results in the opportunity for TSC to supply a whole new range of products. In order to do so, the company has in place a fully dedicated development team headed up by an award-winning chef, and investing in such expertise is clearly paying dividends. Last year, for example, the company launched a breathtaking 1000 new products – on average, three per day.
The company works closely with its customers to develop the new products. “We tend to take the lead – quite a few of our customers rely entirely on us,” explains operations manager Chris Taylor, who has worked in the food industry for 25 years. “We know what the food trends are and we’ve got the expertise; but we also understand the customer’s brand and what fits with that brand and what might go in one restaurant better than another, because they all have their own identity. We’re very active in that area.”
TSC produces both chilled and frozen products, understanding that customers’ requirements vary greatly according to their individual consumption of the product. “Whether it’s chilled or frozen usually depends on how they handle it in their supply chain,” explains Taylor. “With a small pub outlet, for example, one case may take a week or two to shift, so they don’t really want to deal with chilled – they need to manage their wastage. We certainly don’t see frozen product as being of inferior quality to chilled – it’s just a quality product that you can freeze.
“Retail is predominantly chilled,” he continues. “That’s made up of soups, gravies, pasta, fish and meat sauces although we also supply frozen into retail café outlets. On the food service side, it’s typically 60% frozen, 40% chilled. But that is entirely dependent on the customer’s supply chain.” The company has an off-site cold store on the other side of Scunthorpe where it freezes stock and co-ordinates its frozen logistics operations.
With the major industry players on its client list, it is hardly surprising that for TSC, business is booming. In 2007, the company turned over £25m; it followed that in 2008 with a turnover of around £33m. Taylor attributes such impressive growth to a number of factors: “We picked up a lot of business from local competitors pulling out of the market – for example, when Baxters pulled out of the chilled soup market,” he explains. “We also launched our own brand – Glorious! – which is a big chunk of business.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that our service levels are 99.5% on-time-in-full, and we go the extra mile to make sure we get the volume into the customer of the right quality at the right time,” he explains. “We’ve aligned ourselves with a lot of companies who have had a good year, so 2008 was a record year for us in terms of sales and profit. 2009 is also going very well and we have a lot of opportunity in our pipeline business – that is, potential business coming in – and it’s looking better than it ever has, so if we can convert some of that into real sales, then we should be in for a very good year overall.”
Supermarkets in particular are renowned for being particularly discerning when it comes to choosing their suppliers, and TSC has found that offering a superior level of service combined with strong leadership on innovation has enabled them to win the business. “It’s the innovation coupled with the service level,” Taylor confirms. “Our customers know they can get good development and innovation from us and we know that we can get it to them of the right quality; so it’s a combination of those factors. We’ve also got a very good manufacturing facility; we have regular [customer] visits and they always go away impressed by our capabilities. It shines through when they meet the people and walk the factory.
“The one ethic that runs through everybody here – from the managing director to staff on the shop floor – is focus on customer service, on an hourly and daily basis. If we’ve got an issue that could result in a potential non-delivery, we are on it; it’s at the top of the agenda for the day. Our people ensure that we close out these issues, that they don’t just get left and that somebody has got their name on it and is driving it through to ensure it gets to the customer. That is what makes us successful.”
In order to consistently deliver such a high level of service, TSC has found that an emphasis on staff development is crucial. It has in place a continuous training programme, and employs two full-time members of staff to carry this out among its 230 shop floor and 50 office-based employees. “We have two dedicated trainers who work within the HR function,” explains Taylor, “and they undertake full-time training of the workforce. They are primarily here to continually refresh and make sure the workforce is up to the standard we require; however, if we’re putting a new plant in, for example, they also get involved with that, making sure that we’ve done risk assessments and that new users are fully trained. At the end of the day, it’s our people that are the main ingredient in our success. We believe we’re a preferred employer in the local market; we ensure we pay a competitive rate to the people that we employ and we believe we can offer them a bright future. We work with them to really drive the business forward.”
These firm foundations have underpinned TSC’s increasing prominence within the industry. The company boasts numerous awards for its products, such as the Retail Q Award for Best Soup, awarded for its Glorious! Chicken, Courgette and Orzo Pasta Broth in 2008. Its Chargrilled Vegetable Cous Cous won silver in the Best New Vegetable Accompaniment of the Year category at the 2008 British Frozen Food Federation Awards and TSC was a Food Manufacture Awards finalist, also in 2008.
In such a competitive marketplace, product recognition is always highly sought-after – but so is appreciation of a firm commitment to excellence in terms of the wider business. “We won the Lincolnshire Business Of The Year Award last year,” confirms Taylor, “and we’ve also won the Supplier Of The Year Award twice in the last three years for our largest food service customer. We’re hoping to win again!”
Being a lean operation certainly enables TSC to achieve its own high standards. “We have automated downtime capture systems which help us target inefficiencies and overall equipment effectiveness,” confirms Taylor. “We know straight away what the issues are in the plant during any given period – if we’ve had any downtime this morning, for example, I can go in and see what’s caused it. It’s a good means of getting live information on performance, which is a key part of our strategy to drive forward overall equipment effectiveness improvements.” It is absolutely critical for the business to continue to drive operational efficiency in order to mitigate unprecedented raw material and utility price increases. TSC is what Taylor calls “a 24/7 operation”, with some of the plant being run constantly, especially at peak times such as in the run-up to Christmas. “Winter is a busy time for us because of soup volume, and we do a lot of Christmas volume for retail as well. The restaurant trade gets busy over Christmas so they’re all pulling volume in too, so that’s our busiest time. Then we scale off during the summer.”
Supplying to major brands clearly has major benefits, but it does not come without its responsibilities, either. “We trade ethically in terms of our environmental and employment responsibilities,” explains Taylor. “The retailers don’t want to be associated with people who are not doing so. We had our key retail partner on site last week looking at new packaging initiatives with us on both primary and secondary packaging. We’re working with them to produce some lighter-weight packaging to try and drive out some of the weight and waste, which is obviously key in retail. We are conscious that retailers are under stringent targets to reduce wastage and we need to be aligned with them; so we’re looking at driving initiatives with their involvement to improve costs through the supply chain. We work with all our key suppliers to bring cost down and improve on [things like] environmental issues.”
With such a proactive attitude towards its own success, TSC is refusing to rest on its laurels. “We have invested a lot over the last year – around £1m in capital expenditure across 2008 to 2009,” confirms Taylor. “At the end of last year we invested in new cooking capacity; this year, we’re looking at more automation in the casing area and we’ve put a new bottling line in the deli operation. We’re not standing still; we’re looking forward, we’re investing and we’re going out to get new business,” he concludes.