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TMI Foods: Bringing Home the Bacon

26 March 2012

TMI Foods is a food factory located on the Lodge Farm Industrial Estate on the outskirts of Northampton. Dawn Farms acquired it six years ago. When FP Express visited in March, the smell of bacon filled the air, leaving no doubt why this is most peoples' favourite breakfast meat.

The company is best known for cooked bacon but it also offers other products. It has about 220 employees in a factory of about 90,000 square feet, and the MD is David Abbott.

On my arrival, David treated FP Express to a plateful of the company's tastiest bacon products, including 'back bacon' and various products sold in many of the UK’s key major multiples. ''TMI was originally a raw meat processing business known as Trent Meat Imports,'' David explains. ''I came over in 1992; at this stage the raw meat business and the sector as a whole was in terminal decline. The type of products we were producing was frozen raw meat and offal.

''The lack of demand for those products and the prevalence of BSE made it important for us to look at other areas we could get involved in. So an opportunity came up for us to look at cooking bacon for a then sister company of the business, and we put together a project in 1992. A year later, we invested in our first continuous cooking line. It was aimed at cooking bacon that would end up in retailers' sandwiches.''

At this point, the company had been cut back as it had pulled out of raw meat processing during the course of 1993 and 1994. David and 13 colleagues were able to invest in a second continuous cooking line, add another factory, and installed another two continuous cooking lines. In 2003 they embarked on a management buyout - David and the directors bought themselves out of the Group - and then, having bought a bacon curing facility in Coventry to add to the existing cooking factories, the business was sold in 2006 and acquired by Dawn Farm Foods, a multi-species cooked and fermented meats company in Europe.

''The rationale behind that acquisition was that Dawn Farms wanted to have a lot more specialisation around the type of cooked ingredients we were supplying, predominantly cooked bacon,'' David explains. ''They saw the addition of TMI as an important part of that. With respect to us, we saw the need for a new factory as we'd outgrown our three factories and we needed a new facility.''

After the acquisition, David and some members of his team then started to look for a plot of land on which to build their new factory. ''We moved into our new premises in 2008, but a major fire set us back and we had to move back into our old facilities. We rebuilt the core of the factory and moved in about nine months later, so in many ways we're a new business now, pulling together the cultures of the three factories.

''The last few years have been spent developing and improving our production lines that we put in process, and developing and growing the business. We're going through a growth spurt at the moment, which is good news.''

Eighty percent of TMI's product is cooked bacon; the company also provides roasted vegetables and pigs-in-blankets, but it's predominantly cooked ingredients. TMI supplies retailers, restaurant group chains, large manufacturing groups, wholesale markets (which in turn supply institutional caterers or smaller outlets), and TMI exports principally into European markets.

''In terms of our facilities, we have three continuous cooking lines,'' says David. ''Our business is predominantly about preparing products, getting them to the right state, then cooking them, chilling or freezing them, and then packaging them in any requirements our customers would have - anything from a small retail pack to a large 10kg bulk pack. Essentially, we have the ability to provide bespoke products to meet all specific customer requirements.''

From a cooking point of view, TMI has a continuous hot air impingement oven and two continuous microwave production lines. ''Continuous hot air impingement is a recognised form of general purpose cooking,'' says David. ''It could be used to cook anything from a small piece of bacon to a chicken; it's anything you may want to grill or roast. The microwave lines, on the other hand, are predominantly there to do high volume bacon cooking. The type of cooking technology it involves is best suited to that particular process.''

The factory also has in-line chilling and freezing, and two packaging solutions at the end of each line so one line can be diverted one way to produce a retail pack, and the second can be diverted the other way to produce a bulk pack. ''We can just plan which of the lines we're going to be doing on any given day,'' David says.

''Much focus around the design and layout of the factory has entailed the environmental dimensions. For instance, we have rooms where the light cuts out if you're not moving around. All the bacon fat we generate is collected, filtered and taken away to be converted into bio-diesel.

''We also make use of rainwater harvesting; any rainwater that falls on the rooftops is collected in a swimming pool sized container beneath our car park. Our green credentials are important to us but the steps we take are just sensible housekeeping more than anything else.''

TMI has many different approvals including British Retail Consortium (BRC) approval and, most recently, Red Tractor certification. ''We're the first company of our type to have Red Tractor approval for cooking bacon,'' says David. ''We see this as being particularly important in this year of the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, where all food products in the Games venues must have Red Tractor status. We are proud of the recognition.''

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