First-Rate Fare

Posted on 3 Nov 2008 by The Manufacturer

A fast-growing supplier of specialist sandwiches to bluechip clients, The Sandwich Factory is building on the expertise and commitment of its staff to drive excellence through all levels of the business, as Becky Done found out from operations director Paul Nicholson

Founded in 1995, The Sandwich Factory Ltd (TSFL) manufactures and supplies a range of food products to over fifteen major clients including high street retailers, national petroleum companies, transport providers and those in the food industry. In addition to its main, Atherstone-based site, TSFL owns two other facilities in the vicinity, including a self-contained production site in 1998 – Cranford Foods. This addition has enabled the company to further diversify its offerings, which currently range from traditional ‘cold eat’ sandwiches to salad pots, in addition to a selection of frozen products. With continued expansion of the product range taking place via innovative new product development from the company’s development theatre, the factory now produces 600 different products each day and a total of 750,000 units each week – with capacity for up to 1.4 million. The company turned over £34 million last year and aims for growth of five to 10 per cent next year to produce turnover in the region of £38 million.

Much of TSFL’s success to date has been achieved as a result of its committed workforce. The company places great emphasis on retention and staff development, and works hard to ensure that all 500 employees are fully equipped to meet the needs of the business. A range of training programmes is on offer, including a qualification to NVQ level, which staff are financially incentivised to undertake – an element that operations director Paul Nicholson sees as important. “People have a financial incentive to make
that qualification,” he explained. “It’s not just about bettering the business; we recognise it in a financial form as well.” It is initiatives such as these which Nicholson feels contribute to a strong sense of teamwork at the company, and which also make staff feel that they are involved in meeting the wider business aims. “We certainly do have committed people in our business and that ranges from management to shopfloor. We have some very long-standing staff – some of whom have been here since day one in 1995,” explained Nicholson.

“It is a culture we try to breed in terms of involving our people in all aspects of the business, from the decision making of where we make investment, to where we can do things better by empowering our people. You get the benefit of that but also it’s a two-way thing – they feel part of an organisation that does care.”

TSFL also ensures that, in addition to provision of training, additional benefits such as performance bonus schemes and subsidised canteen facilities are on offer to all staff.

The technical expertise present within TSFL was recognised in March 2003, when the company was awarded the higher level of the BRC accreditation, demonstrating its excellence within its field. The company continues to be committed to using a mixture of manual and automated production processes as it expands and grows, but is always on the hunt for new technology that could assist in continuous improvement, as Nicholson
explained: “We are constantly exploring new technology that comes into the marketplace and we evaluate whether that is right for our business in terms of making the investment. And that’s ongoing.

The company also has a number of lean initiatives in place, including supplier JITs and some kanbans. “We run lean initiatives throughout the business and we have definitely benefited from that,” stated Nicholson. “I think that’s also part of the reason why we have a committed workforce – they can see opportunities and targets, and are able to embrace those and feel very involved.”

As a major employer in Atherstone, the company takes its responsibilities as a local employer seriously. It is a contributor to the town’s cricket club, and is also committed to partnerships with local schools: “The children often come into the factory for tours and, of course, a sandwich!” said Nicholson. The concept of partnership is central to the company’s ethos and the way it conducts business, with suppliers and customers considered very much as partners. “We do regard these things as a partnership,” Nicholson emphasised. “Whether it’s a supplier or a customer, it is a partnership.” This approach translates into a strong focus on excellence in customer service. “The customer is king, and customer service is part of a very important KPI for us. We have to meet very high standards to maintain and grow our business with those customers,” he said.

The company was recently acquired by Hull-based Cranswick, a deal which has enabled TSFL to focus on all of its key business objectives, and to enjoy the growth and expansion that has resulted from doing so. “We have seen absolutely fantastic support from Cranswick,” stated Nicholson. “They are very supportive in what we do as a business when it comes to capital investment. We have had 100 per cent commitment from them.” Among other things, the acquisition has enabled significant investment to take place, with £1 million having been invested over the past 12 months and additional investment planned for the near future. To date, the extra cash flow has allowed the purchase of further refrigeration equipment, storage facilities and cold stores, enabling the company to make significant savings in energy costs.

Energy and the environment is a major consideration for TSFL, and the company employs a number of innovative methods to enable it to fulfil its green commitments. The use of electrolysed water for sanitation on site has allowed the company to enjoy
cost savings in terms of its chemical loading, as well as reducing its impact on the environment.

Looking to the future, Nicholson has a vision for how the company should continue to differentiate itself from the competition. “We like to show innovation in our products, and to support that with good marketing. We always strive to deliver quality products at the right price with a fantastic service level. That gives us the edge,” he concluded.