06 October 2011
Barfoots of Botley: Winner, 2011 Energy & Environment Award
With a newly constructed anaerobic digestion plant, green waste is a thing of the past at sweetcorn manufacturer Barfoots of Botley
Barfoots of Botley is a family business that provides over 2,000 tonnes of product per week for customers that include all the major supermarkets.
Headquarters is Sefton Farm at Pagham, five miles south of Chichester in an area renowned for having the highest natural light levels in the UK – perfect for its chief value stream crop, sweetcorn.
But while Mother Nature plays her part, it's the creative guile of the firm's management team that has helped Barfoots achieve double-digit growth in the past decade aided by investment of £8.5 million in products, processes and people. Today the company commands 90% of the UK sweetcorn market.
For those thinking it's easy with a single product, think again. Barfoots has 26 products, 28 customers and 103 SKUs across three main value streams – there's ample complexity here. Stir in stiff competition (fair and unfair), limited negotiating power, customer price pressure, the high cost of technical accreditation and massive exposure to market pressures and force majeure – and the challenges facing Barfoots are plain to see.
The answer here is astute risk management and agile manufacturing. The tactics deployed include widening the customer portfolio, developing better negotiating platforms through joint business ventures, engendering quality and technical differentiation, and creating a more robust, vertically integrated supply chain.
Agile production in a seasonal business is vital. In a sunny week, demand on Barfoots can reach 2.5 million pieces of sweetcorn, compared to 1.4 million when the weather is overcast. The ability to switch on new lines and/or a nightshift is critical to commercial success, while field-to-supermarket in just 48 hours is among the latest challenges facing the management team.
"We've stopped worrying about externalities; they'll be what they'll be. Instead we focus on making everything we do excellent," says commercial director John Barfoot. "We're always looking for the next way to add more value."
Process innovation at Barfoots is impressive, making the company a stand-out among household and general product plants. There are 52-week daily refrigerated arrivals to ensure a JIT management process, minimising stock residency and increasing quality and freshness throughout the chain.
This is followed by preparation (trimming, de-husking, grading, UV bio-control) in a fully accredited and automated high-care facility, and packing in a patented MAP format to extend shelf life.
Improvement is a way of life and as a result, measures such as factory unit cost output are getting better every year. Among the drivers is automated OEE (with live, lineside electronic status boards), which although in its early days, is already used extensively to help identify problems and implement CI.
Also evident throughout is 5S, targeted training programmes for machine operators and mission directed work teams. The company is also moving from punnets to simple film wrap for its produce, a move that's both value-chain and environment driven.
In fact, its commitment to all things environmental is arguably the biggest step forward for Barfoots. Impressively, the company's first major sustainable manufacturing project has seen it commit to renewable energy via construction of the UK's first sweetcorn-fuelled bio gas plant.
This anaerobic digester now consumes 25,000 tonnes of green waste per annum to generate three times the quantity of electricity and heat required to power the site, offering the local community an increased supply of electricity to the National Grid.
This landmark development also provides a lifecycle contribution of water for irrigation and fertiliser to grow further crops, while there are now 5,000 fewer tractor journeys a year on local roads – not a single piece of green waste leaves the site. Ultimately the project represents a full cycle of management from field to production, offering an integrated farming production system.
To date, the plant has achieved a business CO2 offset of 97%, making it a worthy winner of this year's Energy & Environment award.
And there's more. The company's corporate and social responsibility now extends to its global sourcing strategy, exemplified by Barfoots' farming venture in Senegal.
This consists of converting 5,000 acres of former sub-Saharan scrubland into the country's second largest exporter of fresh produce – potentially supplying 95% of Europe's winter demand for sweetcorn. Established as part of an Ethical Trade Initiative with the local community, the project includes commitment by Barfoots to invest in local employment, education, sanitation and infrastructure.
Truly, a UK SME to be proud of.
Barfoots of Botley Ltd
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