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Solutions-led approach for veg success

22 August 2016

Having donned the obligatory PPE and workwear, Suzanne Gill took a look around the ever-expanding facilities of the JDM Food Group. 

JDM Food Group moved to its present site in Bicker, Lincolnshire, six years ago, commissioning a purpose-built food factory with plenty of land, which has allowed it to continue to grow to meet demand for its expanding capabilities. The 15-year old company started out life in a factory in Wisbech, supplying a range of products to the UK food manufacturing sector including garlic, ginger and chilli.

Darren Bevan, commercial director at JDM Food Group, joined the business in January 2008 as part of the industrial sales team. Since joining the company, he has seen it move site and grow rapidly in terms sales, customer base, capabilities, physical space and, above all else, people. In early 2008 the company opened a second facility and took its first steps into working directly with retailers, supplying a range of products including garlic, ginger, sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

The move to the Bicker site allowed the company to expand its offerings to include both whole head and low risk processing (where simple primary processing takes place – such as peeling and size reduction) and high care and high risk processing areas – greatly diversifying the product range and allowing the company to supply products that are fully prepared and ready to consume. 

The move to Bicker represented not only a consolidation of the two sites, but also a step change in manufacturing capabilities. For the first time, the business was able to offer its customers fully cooked and ready-to-eat products (RTE) through its high risk manufacturing facility. “Operating in a market where demand is both unpredictable and individually customer specific, the Bicker manufacturing site was designed to fulfill our supply chain strategy, which focusses on agility and flexibility underpinned by four main capabilities – extra capacity of critical resources, rapid-response capability, technical strength in both process and product, and a manufacturing flow that is designed to produce the smallest possible batches,” explains Bevan.

The new factory was built from scratch with new flooring and drainage designed to allow all four different processing environments to be housed within a single factory. “I believe we are now one of only a few sites in the UK that has a whole head facility, a low care facility, a high care facility and a high risk facility all on the same site and within the same footprint, all interlinked to each other,” said Bevan. This requires a strict flow of people and product to ensure there is no cross contamination from different areas of the plant – and requires a complete change of workwear and PPE before moving between areas. Since moving to the new site, the company has needed to extend four times already and is currently working on its fifth extension with plans afoot for further investment in the next three to four years.

 “We had a plan to strategically grow the value-added side of the business,” explained Bevan. “Adding high risk processing capabilities gave us the opportunity to produce a range of bespoke dips, sauces, dressings, gravy, etc, and it is this capability to deliver innovation in added value which is driving growth for the business.”

“The low risk vegetable processing side of our business has remained stable in recent years,” continued Bevan. “In terms of primary processing, we work with two main vegetables – butternut squash and sweet potato, in addition to importing garlic from Spain and China, as well as fresh ginger and chilies, to which we add value in a number of ways, either by pureeing, roasting or smoking, for example.”

Adding value
The company is also seeing business growth coming from its ability to innovate – not just with the products themselves, but through its packaging solutions. “This can mean packing product into small tubs, tubes or individual dip pots for the retail and food service sectors, while putting the same product into larger containers for the food manufacturing sector,” explained Bevan. 

“I believe that we differentiate ourselves from others in the market through our flexibility, our wide variety of packaging solutions and through our innovative new product development capabilities.” 

Flexibility and innovation around packaging has given the company access to more markets. For example, since it gained the ability to provide product in dip pots, it has won a client for whom it now packs several million dip pots every year.  

The company is also working more closely with customers today to undertake new product development work and Bevan sees this as an evolving and critical part of the business. “It’s more than just understanding our customers’ needs; it’s about understanding the value that we create for customers with the products that we supply and then working continuously to increase that value,” he said. “Today we do not see ourselves as simply offering a range of products, but more as providing a range of capabilities and value-based solutions for our customers.”

As I walked around the plant with Mark Jackson, food service director at JDM Food Group, we discussed consumer taste trends, and Jackson explained that the company is seeing an increased demand for smoked flavours and chargrilled products.

Following consumer trends
“We employ a number of category managers to give us up-to-date data on consumer trends, which helps us to create the right products,” he said. “We need to predict what consumers will want. For example, we have seen an evolution from chargrilling, roasting and smoking through to the latest taste trend – ash – burning products to the point of destruction. Fire-based cooking is definitely a big trend currently.” 

One of the trademark processes undertaken at the factory is its Fire Roasting process, which allows it to add value to products by enhancing the natural flavours of the vegetables. “The clever part is adding flavour to the product – through a variety of herbs, seasoning, oils and vinegars – before flame roasting it,” explained Mark. “The fire roasting process line is able to produce anywhere between five and eight tonnes of product per day, depending on the vegetable we are roasting,” he added.  Once the product has been chargrilled, it may go straight to the packaging area or may go on to other processes – for example cooking in one of the steam ovens, which helps to further increase product value by extending its shelf life by reducing the microbial load.

“We have also seen an increase in business as a result of changes in legislation controlling the use of smoke flavourings, which came into force early in 2015,” said Jackson. Today the company regularly employs its two large NESS smokers to meet this increase in demand for smoked vegetables, fruit and herbs. It smokes with alder, cherry, hickory and oak wood chips. 

“Innovation is a key part of what we do at JDM Food Group, and we are constantly striving to create new and creative food solutions for all areas of the food industry,” said Jackson.  Indeed, earlier this year, the company won the Casual Dining Innovation Challenge for its new range of Just Add Flavour Additions aimed at the food service sector. The range of concentrates comes in flavours such as Smoky Chipotle, Roasted Garlic, English Herbs, Sicilian Lemon, Blue Cheese, Marie Rose and Wholegrain Mustard. Each product comes in a 30g sachet, designed to flavour 200g of any classic restaurant ingredient, offering smaller operators in the food service sector consistent delivery, versatility and complete customisation for their dishes. 

JDM Food Group has certainly achieved a great deal in its 15 years and doesn’t look like it is aiming to sit back on its laurels any time soon. The company currently employs around 370 people on site and, this year, expects to turn over circa £40 million. “Over the last 18 months, we have continued to work hard – splitting the business into three clearly defined areas across the different food sectors – retail, manufacturing and food service – and developing strategies across each of these areas. We are currently seeing growth in all of these,” concluded Bevan.

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