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'Greater consistency, quality of service'

14 December 2010

EXCLUSIVE Hygiene Group MD, Steve Bailey, talks to FP about lean manufacturing, the company hierarchy and sustainability, among other subjects

Could you describe the Hygiene Group in your own words?
Hygiene Group is a specialist supplier of cleaning services to the food and beverage sector. We're the UK's largest dedicated provider to this sector, with clients including Walker's Crisps, Carlsberg and Cadbury.

Could you describe how and when Hygiene Group was founded?
Hygiene Group was founded in 1983 as a partnership between myself and Roger Bradbury. Roger worked for a pest control company and had been contacted by a confectionery manufacturer which also required contract cleaning services. We realised many other food production companies must have a similar requirement, and so Hygiene Group was born.

How was the company affected by the Recession - if at all. And how have you found the Recovery?
Even if the price of food changes, legal standards don't, so the amount of cleaning required for an operational food production facility remains constant. That means in most instances we've not been affected. While a few facilities have been mothballed, others are running far leaner then previously, meaning they can't and don't use in-house staff for cleaning, which has presented greater opportunities for us as a company.

How much business do you do with the food & drink sector?
Almost all our business in this sector - a turnover of around £17.5 million in the last financial year.

How important is 'lean manufacturing' to your company?
The sector's increased focus on lean manufacturing is good for us as it means tasks such as cleaning are more likely to be outsourced. Even with recent advances in mechanisation, cleaning is still largely a repetitive and labour-intensive task and so a specialist supplier able to put the required number of trained, dedicated people on-site to undertake that task is essential to food producers.

What sets you apart from your competitors?
Unlike most of our competitors, we're a specialist cleaning company. We don't get involved in other areas of facilities management. Not only that, we specialise in cleaning for the food and beverage sector. And in an industry where staff retention has traditionally been poor, we've for many years committed to equipping people with the relevant skills to develop a career in cleaning, rather than just having a job. This enables us to offer greater consistency and quality of service and to promote from within wherever we can.

Could you elaborate on the hierarchy in your company?
There are two directors and a five-strong senior management team. We divide the country into two regions, each with an operations manager. Under them are account managers each covering four or five sites, with a dedicated contract manager for each site. Each team of operatives is led by a supervisor.

Could you tell us more about your background with respect to the food & beverage sector?
I've now been in the industry for more than a quarter of a century, managing the provision of cleaning services in both high and low risk environments, and in ambient and chilled facilities, as well as other value-added services such as pest control and waste management.

How important are exhibitions such as Foodex, Pro2Pac and Total to Hygiene Group?
From our point of view, we use these events to seek out new technologies which either help reduce manual effort for our staff, enable us as a company to offer more sustainable cleaning solutions, for example through reduced use of chemicals, or simply deliver enhanced results. One recent example is Bio-mist, which is as close to a water-free disinfection system as anything on the market today, making it suited to production facilities for products such as chocolate, cereals or cooked meats.

'Sustainability' is the new buzzword in the food sector. Has this created more opportunities for you?
All producers want their cleaning suppliers to deliver solutions that are as sustainable as they can be. As well as Biomist which reduces water usage, we'll shortly be introducing the Ionator, a cleaning system for low-risk areas which uses only tap water, meaning no need for detergents and disinfectants.

Anything else you'd like to add?
While some companies have embraced this already, the sector has to realise cleaning isn't just a cost - it's a vital prerequisite for safe and legal production. A clean production facility is integral to protecting a company's brand and reputation, which can be lost overnight if their facility is found to be dirty, or unsafe product is sent out. Even if it's not harmful, food which looks bad because, for example, it's been tainted by the presence of excess water, will not sell, which can in the long term have severe commercial ramifications. The smart companies are those that see cleaning as an essential pre-production process - rather than just a rectification function after production - and invest in it accordingly.

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