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Getting a slice of the action

24 September 2008

Treif, a Germany-based company with several international branches, including one in the UK, recently celebrated 50 years in the business. So what does the future hold? David Strydom went to Witham to find out.

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Treif, which develops and manufactures machines, production lines and systems for cutting and slicing food, describes itself as a four-fold specialist because it focusses on dicing, portion cutting, slicing and bread-cutting.

But there is more to the story of the company and its success.

Although it is based in Oberlahr, Germany, Treif has what it describes as ''daughter branches'' in France, China, the US and Witham, Essex. The latter branch was established near London in 1961 and in earlier years was known as Albrin Products. The British team later changed its name so people knew they were dealing with Treif, and moved to Witham in January 2002.

The Witham branch consists of six staff members. MD Mark Henderson, directors Audrey and Derek Henderson; sales executives Alan Elvin and Ross Layton; and service manager, James Reilly.

The company's four independently operating, specialised competence units, consist of selected specialists who deal exclusively with the solution of problems and fulfillment of requirements specific to their application field. ``As a four-fold specialist, we can offer customers trans-sectoral competence,'' the company says.

``The research and development we put into our equipment, the millions we invest in R&D, is something we don't believe our competitors can match - it's what sets us apart,'' said Mark, when asked what made Treif's plant or process better than others on the market. ``Also, Treif tries to stay in touch with the market. It tries to keep everything possible in-house - anything they can produce themselves, they will.''

``When I joined Treif and realised they even make their own spanners rather than ordering them, I was impressed,'' says Ross. ``We like to have total control of everything. That makes it easier to support old machines, too. We still come across working machines that are 20-30 years old - that's why Treif is known as producing solid pieces of kit.''

Mark says: ``The team at Treif sticks around because employees are looked after - it is a good company to be with.''

The Treif team in England is bullish about how the company will cope in an economic downturn. ``We see 2008 as an opportunity,'' Mark says. ``Foodex-Meatex, where we exhibited, was our starting point for the rest of the year. Last year was a tough one for us as there were a few factors that affected the market - foot-and-mouth, blue tongue, bird flu etc. But as humans always need to eat, we feel good about this year. So far we've had some positive enquiries. And we're keen to get a machine launched in each of the three sections in which we specialise.''

Alan and Ross say although most of their business has come from slicers and cutters for meat, there is a burgeoning market in the form of cheese. ``Pork is important for us,'' says Mark. ''In fact, meat is our mainstay but we're increasingly diversifying into cheese.'' An example of how they have made a sale for cheese dicers occurred recently at an exhibition. A cheesemaker took an interest in their dicing display and further communication led to a sale.

``The company said they'd been unable to find a machine that diced their product exactly as they wanted it, and that if ours did, they would buy it,'' says Alan.

The team clearly prides itself on its commitment to waste management. Many other cutters and slicers, they say, waste a certain amount of ham or cheese etc because of the way the food is sliced. They demonstrated this to FP by means of a computerised display. They say that by changing the angle at which the product is cut results in less wasted product, which in turn leads to a more energy efficient process.

Treif outlines its slicing benefits in a company brochure. These include no need for an overhead blade change; equal-sized packs owing to being equipped with a checkweigher and conveyor; touchscreen with intuitive menu; ``time-saving'' cleaning owing to the open design of the machine and ``easy'' accessibility to the cutting area; and hygiene benefits owing to the stainless-steel housing.

Another benefit, the company says, is the ``perfect'' product presentation using the ''globally unique'' and patented SAS system. So what is the SAS system? SAS stands for ``stacking/shingling as you slice''. The pamphlet describes the process: ``Whether you're talking about an industrial machine or a model for launching yourself onto the market, there are certain principles of slicing that Treif always maintains. Stacking and shingling are carried out in one operating process so the slices cannot fall or slip. They lie exactly on top of each other, even with stacks which are 100mm2 high.''

This technique is the company's pride and joy, and what it says separates it from its competition.

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