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Ambitious plans for JDM Food Group

02 April 2015

Formed in 2000, JDM Food Group is still a relative newcomer to the food industry. Yet in 2013, they were placed at number 3 on The Grocer’s Fast 50 in 2013, and have managed to move up one place to number 2 in 2014. What’s the secret behind their success?

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JDM Food Group is based in Bicker, Lincolnshire and while the company’s origins are in supplying garlic, smoked garlic, organic garlic and ginger in various forms, the company has grown to become one of the UK’s leading suppliers of garlic, ginger, sweet potatoes and butternut squash, among a host of other offerings. “JDM Food Group started as a small business that imported garlic and ginger, serving mainly food manufacturing businesses within the UK,” explains Darren Bevan, Commercial Director at JDM Food Group. “Today we still work with over 250 customers, supplying whole-head products through to added value products that are ready to eat. In the past seven years, we’ve increased our turnover by 520%, and we’ve achieved this through the targeted development of three key strategic business areas.” Today, JDM Food Group distributes around 65 tonnes of fresh produce a day across the UK.

JDM Food Group’s key strategic areas include retail, manufacturing and foodservice. With their core products of garlic, ginger, sweet potatoes and butternut squash, the company has taken advantage of growth opportunities to move the business forward. “Taking whole-head product for example, we achieve value-added through a range of process capabilities including size reduction, smoking, caramelising and roasting,” says Bevan. “As the business has grown, we’ve also added a high risk facility enabling us to produce an exciting range of ready-to-eat products including dips, dressings, marinades, concentrates and sauces. As far as I am concerned our site is unique in the UK in that it offers whole-head, low risk, high care and high risk production capabilities under one roof, allowing us to deliver total flexibility and bespoke solutions to our customers.”

The company moved to their current location in 2010, after they had outgrown their old site in Wisbech. The factory was built from the ground up to specifically meet the needs of the business. “The factory was built with the idea that it would be sufficient for the company’s needs and growth plans for at least five years,” Bevan explains. “Four years in, and we’re on our fourth extension. The growth we’ve seen has been phenomenal. For example, in 2012, JDM Food Group acquired what used to be Gordon Joplings from Kerry Ingredients and we acquired a whole new product range, as well as new capabilities and key customers almost overnight.”

‘Boutique style’
Bevan describes JDM Food Group as a boutique style business in the way it operates. “When someone asks me what products the company produces, I always say don’t define us by our products. Think of us as a business with an innovative range of capabilities and processes underpinned by a forward thinking NPD team. We are so much more than a portfolio of products. If you take a simple sweet potato for example, we can provide sweet potato as a whole head product. We can also peel it, dice it and slice it. We can puree it, cook it, dry roast it, caramelise it. We can even smoke it or steam it. Our value adding process capabilities allow us to produce a wide range of exacting offers.”

There’s an air of entrepreneurism that surrounds JDM Food Group. There’s a ‘can do’ attitude that is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is more often steeped in tradition and immobility.  Led by founder Tim Bertin and Managing Director Jon Chesworth, it’s easy to see how JDM Food Group reached The Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 in 2013. Covering Britain’s top 100 private companies with the fastest growing sales over the past three years, JDM Food Group were ranked number 82; no mean feat for a food company. 

“We’ve achieved this growth by answering the needs of our customers,” says Bevan. “We wouldn’t claim to be world leading marketers and we certainly aren’t looking for world domination. We are however excellent manufacturers and we produce a range of products for some of the leading UK food brands as well as supermarket own label. We have an entrepreneurial approach to our business. We look at what capabilities we have and what we can do within those capabilities, we use innovation to create change and opportunity. Customers come to us and explain what they want to do, and then it’s our job to figure out how to make that happen for them.”

As an example, Bevan describes a discussion he had a few years ago with a customer who asked if the company could manufacture chocolate sauce. As a factory that produces garlic, there were a number of issues around the production of sweet sauces due to the risk of taint. “Afterwards, we sat down as a management team and had a discussion about it,” Bevan recalls. “We thought strategically about ways to solve this issue, and provide a commercial solution. The project team, led by Keith Hearne, our Operations Director, came up with a solution. We created a dedicated area within the factory and connected a filtered positive air pressure environment. We installed a dedicated sweet product kettle and dedicated pipework to eliminate the risk of taint. We now make dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate sauces. We pack treacle and maple syrup and custard. By taking that step, we moved into confectionery. And by extension, we’ve opened up other new markets. We’ve produced maple syrup to be placed in a baking kit that is sold in retail, which has given us a lead into the baking sector.”

It’s a good example of the company’s innovation and demonstrates their willingness to look for a solution for their customers. And they aren’t afraid to invest in machinery for their clients either. “When it comes to investing in new machinery, we’re more than happy to go out and invest for our clients,” explains Bevan. “We bought a sachet machine when we first started making sachets; it was a small one that met our needs. With the growth in that area, we’ve invested in a bigger machine that runs continuously. And right now, we’re looking to invest in an even larger sachet machine – it’s being commissioned and we’re running trials that will allow us to produce in the order of 350 sachets per minute. And when we moved into sauces, we invested in a machine that could dip pots in a number of different guises. Our packaging solutions now include dip pots, sachets, tubs, pergal bags and consumer friendly tubes.”

So what exactly do JDM Food Group’s capabilities include? They can provide 1mm, 3mm, 5mm, 10mm, 15mm, 20mm slice, dice, julienne and wedge cuts. They can caramelise ingredients. They can slow roast and cold and smoke smoke ingredients. Their smoker uses alder wood, cherry wood, hickory and oak wood. Pureeing is widely available whether as part of a sauce, soup, stock or paste. JDM Food Group can also pack products into easy to store buckets ranging from 500g, 1kg, 5kg, 10kg, 15kg and 20kg. 

The factory
Walking around the factory, there is a distinct lack of garlic smell for a company who produces so much garlic. “We invested heavily in a huge filtration system to stop the smell of garlic being released into the atmosphere surrounding the factory,” explains Bevan. Through goods in, there are several cold stores where raw ingredients are held. “We import raw materials from all over the globe. Our sweet potatoes mainly come from a number of growers in the US, for example. Our garlic mostly comes from Spain and China, and it comes in both bulb and peeled formats.”

The relationships that JDM Food Group have fostered with their suppliers overseas are obviously a source of pride for the company. “Our growers have been working with us for a long time,” explains Mandeep Grewal, Technical Director at JDM Food Group. “We procure sweet potatoes from North Carolina all year round; ginger, chillies and garlic from China and butternut squash from South Africa, Argentina and Portugal. We have an eighteen year relationship with our growers in Spain, and twelve years with our growers in China. We like to work on long term strategies with our growers; which leads itself to a relationship of trust and partnership.”

While the factory uses automation where it can, there are still labour-intensive areas due to the nature of the product. Peeling butternut squash, thanks to its unusual shape, has to be done manually. And just around the corner, there’s a fire roaster to add subtle smoky tones via one of their trademarked processes; Sweetflamed™, Sunbaked™, Sweetfire® and FireRoast™. On the other side of the roaster is a row of ovens which can provide a range of slow-cooked and roasted options.

“About 97% of our material coming from this site is recycled,” says Grewal. “As an example, all our organic matter gets collected and composted. Our wastewater is stored in bulk tanks before it is taken off-site by a certified company who use flotation tanks to filter the water. The waste is spread on farms as slurry and the water is filtered, cleaned and released. We recycle all our cardboard and plastic too. This philosophy is passed onto our growers and suppliers to ensure that the whole of our supply chain works in a responsible and sustainable manner.

“But above all, we work hard to make sure that the foods we manufacture are safe, meet regulations and the exacting standards of our customers, and are of a high quality. We are constantly looking at where we can improve our efficiencies without it impacting on the food safety and quality standard of our products.”

The future
When asked about the career opportunities in the food sector, Bevan agrees that there are emergent challenges in recruitment on the whole when it comes to the food industry. “It seems that the food industry isn’t viewed as an exciting industry to get into. It’s not viewed in the same way as aviation or IT, for example. But it should be. There are some cutting-edge, high-end, state-of-the-art businesses within the food manufacturing sector that have some really exciting technology and some of the robotics in larger businesses are complex and fascinating.”

At the moment, JDM Food Group has two students from Reading University on internships with the company. “One of the students conducted detailed research into the food market, breaking it down by sectors, looking at who the major players are and cross-matching that with our level of business within those sectors,” says Bevan. “That project unveiled a huge wealth of market information and new business opportunities. Even with our best customers, we still have room for significant growth, which is why I’m so excited about our future. The next question is obviously how do we go out there and capture that growth? We’re a changing and rapidly developing organisation and that comes with its own challenges. We’ll continue to develop our entrepreneurial process as a means to value creation and customer satisfaction.”

And with JDM Food Group sitting in the heart of the agricultural county of Lincolnshire, the company is well placed to keep growing. 

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