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TMI Foods: 'Investment in automation is vital'

02 March 2012

David Abbott, MD of TMI Foods, tells FP Express that investment in automation is 'absolutely vital', and that its flexibility gives it an edge over its competitors

What does TMI Foods do?
We are the leading UK manufacturer of cooked ingredients, primarily bacon but also sausages and roasted vegetables, which we produce at our modern factory on the Lodge Farm Industrial Estate in Northampton.

Explain when and where the company was founded.
The company was founded in Northampton in the early 1980's. Initially the business focused on raw meat processing, but after 1992 the emphasis moved to cooking bacon and sausages and roasting vegetables. In 2003, I led a management buyout of the company from the Prize Food Group, we acquired a bacon curing and smoking unit in Coventry, and in 2006 we were acquired by Dawn Farm Foods in Ireland, the leading multi-species cooked ingredients company in Europe.

Has the company been affected by the fragile economic climate?
We've found that demand is still strong for high quality and tasty ingredients, but value cooked bacon products have certainly been more in vogue as retailers and food manufacturers look for lower-priced options to deliver bacon flavour. Nonetheless, consumers do get jaded with value offers all the time and our view is they're beginning to look again at innovation, exciting flavours and for something a bit different. People are developing more discerning tastes, for example chorizo is now popular as an ingredient, and consumers are looking for stronger flavours and more premium types of bacon. As a result, we've been working hard on new product development with prospective and existing customers on a host of new initiatives to bring to all sectors of the market.

To what do you attribute the company's success?
We're widely recognised in the market for the quality of our range of own-cured, cooked bacon products, and we're able to provide a range of fabulous flavours and products at different price points. We're renowned for our innovative processing systems, using natural smoking techniques with beech, apple or oak wood and cure via traditional dry or brine methods to various flavours including sweet, cherry, maple and hops. All this gives us a strong competitive edge.

What is it about your process that makes you more successful than your competitors?
Undoubtedly it's our flexibility to provide tailor-made unique cures and smoke flavoured products in various sizes, from whole rashers to small pieces and in packs from retail units to large bulk packs. Other cooked ingredients are developed to precise requirements, like our roasted vegetables to QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants) and speciality products to provide tasty toppings or ingredients, such as roasted chorizo. Furthermore, we're approved by all major restaurant and high street retailers, and our British sourced pork is cured and cooked exclusively in the UK. We'll shortly be looking to use the Red Tractor logo on our bacon products.

Is investment in automation important to TMI Foods?
It is absolutely vital. When we moved into our new factory three years ago, we invested in all new machinery using state-of-the-art and highly automated systems focusing on the production of consistent, food safe and portion controlled cooked ingredients. We have the most modern bacon- cooking factory in Europe, currently producing about 10 million rashers of bacon every week.

Does the company invest in skills and training?
Yes, we have various training and personal development programmes available. We have a policy of trying to recruit from within, whenever possible and we're currently adopting a Continuous Improvement programme utilising Lean principles throughout the business.

How important are exhibitions and trade fairs to the company?
Our customers are leading household names in food retailing, manufacturing and foodservice industries, and so we exhibit at targeted and focused exhibitions only, such as the sandwich shows in the UK and Europe.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Our acquisition by Dawn Farms nearly six years ago was a positive move which unquestionably enhanced our business, enabling the development of our new factory and the opening up of new market opportunities. It also helped us share best practice, offering a 'one stop shop' proposition for cooked ingredients and meal components, and providing creative solutions to briefs from customers through our joint commitment to new product development and innovation.

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