Think ‘pickle with passion’ and you will be close to understanding the values that drive the English Provender Company. This is a business with passion – and that passion drives its production of top-quality speciality food products, such as premium chutneys, relishes, dressings and preserves.
The organisation’s heritage lies in this, its ‘retail’ division and it produces the speciality premium products under the English Provender Company brand, its own sub-brand ‘Very Lazy’ (garlic, chilli, ginger and more), and increasingly, for the major retailers’ own premium brands. English Provender Company (EPC) is part of the Billington Group. Following a period of rapid growth, EPC moved to a new facility – a 93,000 sq ft location at New Greenham Park near Newbury, Berkshire. That was to be the start of a period of signi?cant change and later that year, EPC’s acquisition of Suffolk Foods provided another challenge – it had to incorporate a very different business into the new operation, namely largescale production of mayonnaise and other fillings for sandwich manufacturers and ready-meal firms. By summer, EPC had completed the integration of that business under one roof at Newbury.
Today, EPC is a 200-employee, £30m turnover organisation: turnover is split 50/50 between retail facing (the ambient product in glass jars) and the chilled products which are manufactured for sandwich and ready meal manufacturers. "This means we have two factories within one," explains Stephen Hughes, EPC’s finance director. "This is a state-of-the-art facility, which operates to the highest quality standards. On one side, the product is ?lled into individual glass jars and goes out at ambient temperature; on the other side, product is filled into large plastic containers which go out chilled." These are two very different processes taking place side by side. "They need unique process flows for many reasons, notably to meet the highest food production standards," says Hughes. Combining Sanderson’s "Formul8" with state-of-the-art data capture products has really helped us to achieve that."
Prior to the move to the new facility, EPC was using the Sanderson Formul8 business management system on a limited basis, "more or less as a finance system," says Hughes. The full Formul8 functionality had remained untapped, but the move to New Greenham Park changed that. "The business had doubled in size almost overnight, so we knew we needed far better systems. We could see that Formul8 had all the modules we needed and we were confident it could take us to the next level."
First on the list was pallet and lot control. The phased introduction began, with finished ambient goods – jars of chutneys, relish and the like. "A huge team effort helped to implement the radio data terminals (RDT) in the ambient warehouse and this made a difference," explains Hughes. English Provender selected the fit for purpose Geneva 6100 handheld and Monaco 7000 truck mounted devices by leading mobile solution providers Belgravium Ltd. In the 1700-pallet location warehouse these helped to reap immediate benefits: "It gave us instantaneous and accurate stock visibility. Instead of just knowing we had 1,000 cases, we knew exactly where each pallet was. What’s more, it told us which pallet locations held the oldest stock; the lot control and traceability was fantastic." EPC subsequently established a finished goods warehouse for the chilled product, and replicated pallet and lot control there, too.
Aside from the general visibility improvements, EPC enjoyed many additional benefits from these early initiatives: "We saw an enormous difference: as well as pallet and lot control, and visibility of stock and its age, we had reliable production figures because the pallets were booked on the system straight from production. Equally, sales orders were being picked with the Belgravium devices. This was all carried out with manual picking sheets previously."
EPC also implemented another feature of Formul8, called Countback. "If the system tells you to pick 200 cases from a 300-case location, as you pick you have to con?rm how many cases remain. If you key in anything other than 100, in this example, it will raise that as an error location for investigation. This gives us incredible benefits in terms of stock accuracy; overnight, we had an almost continuous stock-taking procedure."
Despite the significant changes to their new Formul8 implementation without hesitation, says Hughes. "They all welcomed it: it gave them order and control where previously little existed," he says.
The chilled product warehouse reaped additional rewards: "Unlike the retail division, which mostly works in full pallets, the chilled business is more of a bucket-picking operation – we need to take product from various pallets and build to another pallet. This facility within Formul8 is fantastic. Without this capability, we wouldn’t have been able to integrate the Suffolk Foods business as quickly or as ef?ciently as we did."
The third and final stage for pallet and lot control came with the raw material and packaging warehouse. But, while ambient and chilled finished product implementations had been straightforward, this was to prove more complex: "In the raw materials warehouse, we have a thousand raw materials and a thousand packaging items, which can be stored in any variant – from 25kg drums to boxes, bags, tanks and more."
The Belgravium devices are used to pick materials for production. "The introduction of Formul8 in this area gave us consolidated raw material picking," says Hughes. "Previously, we went to the warehouse and picked quantities of sugar, salt, tomatoes and so on for each works order – with Formul8, we have consolidated picking routines to pick in bulk and issue that to production. It is much more accurate and far more ef?cient."
The expansion of Formul8 in conjunction with the adoption of data capture terminals, means that EPC has now been able to ‘surround’ production. "Factory ?oor data capture will complete this loop and we’re ?nalising the details of that with Sanderson right now," says Hughes.
But Formul8 is being used to drive much more than pre- and post-production processing. "We’ve implemented the MRP module, for example, on the planning side which has helped us to reduce stock turns. We’ve also implemented the specifcations module, giving our technical people the precise speci?cations for raw materials." This will include finished product specifcations, too.
Most recently, EPC has implemented the Formul8 sales foreing module, enabling the business to export data by customer, by product, by period: "We can then manipulate and analyse that. This is vital for sales fores, production plans and MRP fores" – a stark difference to the spreadsheet driven operation of just three years ago.
This new-found visibility and real time data accuracy is proving invaluable as the business expands. "As finance director, I have to be con?dent that there are solid controls within the business – that has been accomplished, and more. Stock accuracy has been a huge benefit for us and has enabled us to cut our stock-taking exercise from monthly to quarterly – and I fully expect this to drop further to half-yearly very soon. There are signifcant cost savings in that beneft alone."
The improved information flow, too, is incredibly benefcial: "We have one system; one set of data.Today, our ethos is that we have one database and that is Formul8. If you want to strip information from there and use it to produce other reports or graphs, fine, but we only recognise Formul8. No other database is valid within this business." The visibility and confidence that this brings to EPC is immense – not only in terms of product lines, but also the management information available right across the business.
Indeed, Formul8 has become such an integral part of EPC’s business that the company has recently purchased the business resilience module – data is now held on a second ‘mirror’ server for disaster recovery purposes. "The system is driving our business and we have to be confident that, in the event of a disaster, we have the necessary means to remain in operation," says Hughes.
It’s clear that for English Provender Company, Sandersons Formul8 together with Belgravium data capture hardware represents the future. The company continued to pursue an aggressive growth strategy, safe in the knowledge that it now has a solid business system to support that expansion. "I’ve worked with many larger systems in previous companies, but I firmly believe that Formul8 is extremely reliable and robust. For any ?nance director, that’s what you are looking for," says Hughes.
Hughes believes the success the company has had with the system is, in no small part, due to internal teamwork: "The way the whole EPC team pulled together behind the project has been a crucial factor in achieving the bene?ts we have,"he says. He is convinced, too, that despite EPC’s expansion of the software and adoption of real-time data capture hardware in recent years, there is still much more untapped functionality. "There are certainly even more possibilities. We’re looking at factory floor data capture right now; next, we may look at the new product development module. Formul8 is a great system: I’ve no doubt that it will continue to support this business for many years and I would certainly recommend it to others.