While coping with the pandemic and the consequences of Brexit, Chesterfield Poultry is ready to move forward with the next phase of its multi-million pound upgrades to its Banham plant
Despite the restrictions that Covid-19 inflicted on many businesses, keeping store shelves well stocked remained top priority for many wholesalers, including Chesterfield Poultry. We last featured the business in 2020 when the business continued to be as busy as ever, regardless of the pandemic implications. The enterprise, which owns and operates an assortment of producing and processing firms including Iqbal Poultry and Banham Poultry, is a trading arm selling a wide range of Halal products. Following an upgrade to its state-of-the-art facility in 2019, the company now processes 13,200 birds per hour. In the latest update, the Managing Director of Banham Poultry, Blaine van Rensburg, gives us a closer look into how Chesterfield’s subsidiary business has fared over the last year. “In February 2020, I doubt we would have predicted the scope and scale of the Covid-19 impact on UK society or the business,” he comments.
It was in early 2018 when Banham was acquired by Chesterfield Poultry and, at the time, the Attleborough-based business accounted for seven percent of the UK’s poultry market. Banham operates primarily in the fresh retail sector and is one of the largest employers in the mid-Norfolk region. The acquisition of the 50-year-old company helped safeguard the future of the business and saved over 1000 jobs in the process. According to Blaine, in order to see through the pandemic, the company made as many necessary adjustments as possible to ensure the security of those jobs, regardless of the continual challenges to adjust to the ever changing and unpredictable market requirements. Not only was this done across the Banham business, but throughout the Chesterfield enterprise.
“The closure of the food service sector resulted in the facility we have in Thorne needing to remodel itself completely in terms of carcass size and the volume it processed; 50 percent was from the large male bird for meat stripping and was no longer required. Remote auditing and inspections also became the norm. Visitors and trade shows completely disappeared and it’s unlikely that industry gatherings will get to 2019 levels ever again,” he expresses.
Another measure that was implemented was a sales mix remodeling. “One of the features of our remodel was the narrowing of the weight range we processed. As a result, we had to focus on increased efficiency and we successfully improved production capacity by a staggering 20 percent,” Blaine shares, adding that despite the challenges, it was not only within the confines of the warehouses that the business could see the consequences of the pandemic. The Banham farmers had to follow suit in learning to cope with the uncertainty of who would care for the livestock should the Covid-19 infection spread to their farm or families.
Although the UK has some of the highest food and welfare regulations in the world owing to the government’s commitment to maintain these high standards for local and imported produce, the nation’s separation from the EU is a further challenge the industry is trying to overcome. “Food sectors are still navigating the complex sanitary and phytosanitary requirements implemented after Brexit. The pedantic red tape and bureaucracy has impacted the flow of goods both in and out of the UK by as much as 40 percent, but we believe this will normalize as manufacturers become more accustomed to this new normal,” he adds.
In light of these trials, Chesterfield Poultry has made the decision to place a particular emphasis on modernizing its Attleborough facility. “Our £11 million investment program has been widely reported as centered on the Banham plant and is focused on levelling up our efficiency of processing to world class standards. Much of the investment has been completed and we have seen a dramatic improvement with respect to kilograms per man hour and our production yields. Additionally, the upgrade of aging infrastructure is required to ensure best practice from an environmental compliance perspective,” he states.
“This magnitude of investment has accordingly impacted every level of our production process. It includes capacity increases to the slaughterhouse and evisceration areas, and has helped reduce the overall processing hours required. By installing a complete renewal of chilling and quality grading systems to the latest technology available with integrated data collection, we improved visibility of livestock defects, which also helped better the carcass quality at a farm level. Two state-of-the-art automatic cut-up lines with bird-by-bird recipe control, all done through shop floor manufacturing execution software, has also increased capacity and improved yields,” he expresses.
The intricacies involved in a production facility of this scale rely on a full set of unit-based key performance indicators, which the company bench marks against each of its plant. This assists in driving efficiencies in utility consumption to the lowest possible level, but, as Blaine notes, this operation could not happen without the dedication of the business’s team. “Despite the relatively high amount of automation in the poultry industry, we remain a labor-intensive operation. Without the people working in this industry, there would be no food on UK shelves. This has been demonstrated by the commendable commitment of key workers who have selflessly worked right through all lockdowns to ensure that there is food on the table. Obviously, this has not been without its difficulties. As sites have had to adapt to staggered working patterns and increased health and hygiene requirements, our people have both adapted and excelled at complying with this new way of operating, and I would like to commend them for heir positive attitude and great work ethic,” he shares.
Focused and flexible
The Banham Poultry company culture, as Blaine states, is curated through a practiced approach that begins at management level. “As a family business, we pride ourselves in our entrepreneurial approach, flexibility, agility and passion for delivering superb results and products. This has to be demonstrated from the very top as leaders go about their daily operational activities. People all want to be a part of something that they feel they can contribute to and valuing people’s input no matter what level of the organization is key to them feeling as though they belong,” he says. However, he also shares his concerns that there is an increasing shortage of skilled labor available to food industries. “With EU nationals returning home due to uncertain circumstances surrounding their ongoing leave to remain, the government is going to have to step in and clear the obstacles to attracting adequate skilled labor to fill the vacancies,” Blaine adds.
Due to its size, Chesterfield Poultry is inherently more flexible and able to respond to market demands and emerging customer requirements. This is as a result of how it has structured its businesses like Banham and invested in strengthening and improving capabilities in order to withstand market challenges. “Despite the difficulties, we have remained focused and our staff have been exceptional throughout this time by adapting to their new working and behavior requirements. We are exiting the pandemic a stronger company with many of our Covid-19 measures supplementing and becoming the norm in our site’s health and safety practices,” Blaine concludes.