Award-winning soup and sauces manufacturer TSC Foods boasts a strong recipe for success in a competitive and complex market. The North Lincolnshire -based food manufacturer was founded in 1991 by foodie entrepreneurs Chris Copestake and Paul Smith who had a bright idea for turning a traditional batch process into a continuous process for chilled and frozen soup and sauce production.
The company has changed hands a number of times since its foundation. It was recently acquired in a £24 million management buy-out and is now owned by Key Capital Partners. The launch of the GLORIOUS! brand of chilled soups and sauces in 2008 has proved a real success within the highly competitive retail sector and the company has won three Grocer Gold Brand Excellence Awards and two Quality Food ‘Best Soup’ Awards in the past three years. A focus on manufacturing excellence and customer service has seen total business turnover climb from £35 million to £40 million in the past year, and is on track for £45 million this year.
“TSC Foods is at the cutting edge of chilled and frozen food development,” says supply chain director Chris Taylor. Consumer taste is a constantly moving target and the company introduces 1,000 new products a year – three a day on average. But it’s not just a matter of throwing in a few spices or different vegetables for variety. The sixstrong Process Development team has to ensure that the chefs’ tasty concepts are also produced consistently during manufacturing scale-up.
“We’ve increased our investment in the Process Team to ensure products can go efficiently from the kitchen to the plant, while ironing out any creases in process. There is a lot of complexity involved in introducing so many products. Our team ensures that all of the products we launch are ones we can make,” says Taylor.
Variety is certainly the spice of life, given the likes of Diablo Sundried Tomato and Chilli; Spanish Tomato and Chorizo; and New York Alfredo Sauce. TSC Foods has also increased its portfolio with a range of risottos, dips, dressings, gravies, marinades and an innovative new range of sous vide and pulled meat products.
TSC Foods serves both sides of the market, manufacturing chilled and frozen soups and sauces both for retailers and the food service sector including restaurants, hotels and pub chains. TSC Foods has invested in specialist technology to produce sauces in large scale with a variety of packaging options including pouches, dip pots, tubs and buckets, to one tonne pallecons. The company also produces large volumes of chilled products such as pasta, meat and fish sauces, soups, gravies and dips in a variety of shelfready packaging formats for retailers.
There are three main business units within the North Lincolnshire site. The Flexibles Unit delivers products into the food service and food manufacturing market. The Pots Unit produces shelfready products for the retail market. The Deli Unit delivers innovative cold-filled products including sauces, dressings, dips, marinades, sandwich fillings, couscous, salads and vegetables.
Planning and processing is complex, involving 60 SKUs on the retail side and about 700 SKUs on the food service side to cater for regular menu changes and reviews. “Products typically churn every six months,” says Taylor. OEE runs at 35-40 per cent as a lot of downtime is associated with cleaning. In any given week there will be over 200 changeovers. “Complexity is one of the barriers to entry into this market,” says Taylor.
TSC Foods at a glance
Company TSC Foods, Scunthorpe
TSC Foods is working closely with food industry specialist Applied Acumen on a programme of continuous lean improvement. “Our main focus has been around labour planning, driving OEE through an increased level of planning activity,” says Taylor. “We are trying to maintain a better fixed plan. Historically there was a lot of movement in plan, and we are now trying to lock-down the next 24 – 48 hours as a firm schedule.” The company operates a CDC data capture system to analyse downtime in support of this initiative.
Taylor adds: “We now work to a fixed 48-hour plan, from raw materials through to the finished goods warehouse. The plan is to achieve an improved labour cost per tonne by planning the labour in more detail for the next two days and flexing the agency staff to suit.”
One of the company’s most valuable recent initiatives has come from focus on first line management. “The supervisors are critical to ensure that everybody is doing what they should be doing, in terms of adherence to procedures. So we are focussed on a retraining programme for all first line managers, and have introduced a higher level of technical auditing, working in partnership with the Kingsway Group,” remarks Taylor.
Health and Safety is crucial, and TSC Foods recently introduced a calendar approach to address a different topic each month, in accordance with a raft of historical data on where they need to focus, such as chemical handling and forklift awareness. “Auditing and supervisory training have proven vital to ensure that people adhere to set procedure and thus prevent errors,” Taylor comments.
Flavours of the world
TSC Foods is a very ‘foodie’ business. Innovation is paramount and the company likes to set trends as well as follow them. “We like to delight our customers, introducing up to three products a day is not untypical,” comments Taylor. The company markets ‘Flavours of the World’ in store as well as exhibiting at major consumer food shows like ‘Taste of London’.
The food production process is conventional and closely monitored to maintain high quality and efficiency. Raw material warehousing handles ambient, frozen and raw materials, including vegetables, meats, dairy products, spices and alcohols.
The preparation department consists of a batching process with weigh scales, ready for cooking. Cooking is carried out using 15 large 0.5-1.5 tonne cooking vessels. Last summer, £1.5 million was invested in two new BCH vessels, a CWM filler and a Starfrost spiral chiller to increase retail capacity, as this sector has been growing at about 15 per cent a year. Once the product is cooked, it is transferred to the fillers, which either feed into plastic pots for retail, film packaging for food service, or bulk filling into one tonne pallecons, buckets or pails for further processing by other food manufacturers.
Chilling is carried out either in brine cooling tanks for the film pouches or by spiral chillers for retail pots. There is a fully automated cleaning-in-process (CIP) for pre-rinse, caustic rinse and final rinse between every product.
All products are manufactured to the high standards required for certification by the British Consortium Global Standards for Food. The company prides itself on using no preservatives or modified starches in the product.
Retail delivery is carried out by Northern Food Transport or by local haulage for the food service sector. “We continue to work closely with our customers to optimise efficiencies throughout the supply chain,” says Taylor.
TSC Foods has made concerted efforts to move away from landfill. “We are now recycling finished goods waste. Contractors separate plastic from the product. Product is rendered and used for fertiliser and plastic is recycled. Furthermore, any raw material plastic is bailed for recycling.” Wastage of raw materials has been halved over the last two years. However, finished goods are more of a challenge as many products de-list each month. TSC has also taken measures to improve efficiency of the blast freezing units with better loading.
Taylor reckons that TSC Foods has managed to weather the recession well because it covers two distinct markets – retail and food service. “Consequently, when we saw a downturn in people going to pubs and restaurants, there was an upturn in retail demand. Nevertheless, we have managed growth in both sectors.”
Looking to the future, Taylor admits there is increasing pressure on margins driven by the rising cost of raw materials and energy. “However, as demand for the GLORIOUS! brand rises we have more control on production complexity.” With an aggressive growth plan of 15 per cent per annum, the future certainly looks GLORIOUS!