Food's cutting edge

Related tags Egg

Food manufacturer Fresh-Pak's new facility in the UK is testament
to how far food production has come in the last ten years.
Anthony Fletcher spoke to managing director Simon Scrivens
to find out what it's like to work at the cutting edge.

Convenience food manufacturer Fresh-Pak's new egg mayonnaise facility at Waterside Park in the UK is testament to how far food production has come in the last ten years. The factory has been designed to provide control of every aspect of production, and in this respect, the plant can be seen as a direct response to retailer demands for increased efficiency and better value for money, and also government and public concern about the safety of the food supply.

But for Fresh-Pak divisional managing director Simon Scrivens, these are not unbearable pressures that must somehow be addressed. In fact, he claims to be quite happy to accommodate the demands of both retailer and consumer.

"You are right, there is pressure on manufacturers to keep prices down, but if this goes towards pleasing the consumer, then I'm happy,"​ he told "The squeeze is there, but I don't have a real problem with it, if it forces me to find better way of doing things."

It is clear that Scrivens sees this pressure in a positive light. "It means we know what we need to do, and in this factory, we are able to do things a lot better, from a hygiene and cost point of view. There is a lot of speculation and press coverage about this squeeze on profit margins, but there is another side to the manufacturer/retailer relationship, and that is the partnership. We have a working relationship with retailers that is positive."

In any case, said Scrivens, one of the main reasons that food has become cheaper is because of manufacturers like Fresh-Pak, who are able to produce food on an industrial scale with incredible efficiency. A typical household now spends just a fraction of its household income on food, whereas decades before, the figure would have been much higher.

Scrivens believes that Fresh-Pak is providing consumers with exactly the product they want. A few years ago sandwich fillings would have been made in the home, but tastes, and lifestyles, have changed. People do not have the time, or do not wish to devote their time to food preparation, and at the same time, they are no longer happy with just an ordinary sandwich.

"They are after something that's tasty, nutritious, and convenient,"​ said Scrivens. And the fourth magical ingredient is value for money. Scrivens claims that even with a relatively simple product such as egg mayonnaise, it represents better value for the consumer if they buy a ready-made sandwich than purchase the individual ingredients.

"We are able to offer this because we are good at what we do - we manufacture efficiently, buy well, and are therefore able to pass these benefits on to the consumer."

Consumer health issues and concerns about the salt and fat content of various food products have been vigorously reported in the UK. Recent government campaigns to reduce salt and fat levels in ready meals have been given wide coverage, and some major manufacturers have been named and shamed over their apparent disregard for consumer health.

Scrivens takes a balanced view on this debate, pointing out that while low-fat alternatives can be put on the shelves, it is up to the consumer to purchase the product.

"We add as little salt as we can, and offer low-fat alternatives. For example, we're developing a mayonnaise that has more egg white than egg yolk in it. But these generally do not sell as well as original recipes, and there has to be a balance. If the government legislates on something then I will comply, but ultimately I will listen to the consumer."

Category leadership, says Scrivens, is for the big brands. His job is to listen to the consumer and develop products they want.

Scrivens is not only positive about his relations with retailers - he also believes that the firm has a good understanding with DEFRA (department for environment food and rural affairs). There is an ongoing exchange of ideas with the government body over issues such as how to store eggs, and Fresh-Pak is eager to ensure that it is being treated in the same manner as its competitors in mainland Europe.

"These discussions are always constructive,"​ he said "We find that the agencies are generally pretty open."

Scrivens is confident about the future of the plant and the business as a whole. The £7.5 million invested at the Barnsley site is to be augmented in the near future, as the company looks to build on a promising start. Already, over 5 million eggs are processed, and 150 tonnes of egg mayonnaise manufactured at the factory each week.

"It's a tough environment, no doubt about it,"​ said Scrivens. "but I don't have a problem with that. A business growing at 35 per cent a year enables me to deliver. Consumer wants low prices, and we can deliver this. The return is there."

To read about's visit to Fresh-Pak's Waterside Park factory, click here​.

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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