... was appointed Chief Executive in April 1974 after being with the firm for about a year. Under his management the Elmswell factory enjoyed a remarkable turnaround, as reflected in the published articles reproduced here. He moved on to other pastures in 1977. He returned to Elmswell on retirement in 2010, and kindly loaned me these papers and photographs.
Meat, September 1974
Meat, May 1975
St Edmunds Revisited
How Neville Freeman is turning Britain's oldest bacon factory from £500,000 loss to profitability
New management team at St. Edmunds Bacon Factory: Left to Right: Keith Yeates, Work Study; David Neale,
procurement; Nevila Freeman; Mark Moorfoot, Accounts; Arthur Humphrey, Sales; John Snell, Accounts.
THE PROBLEM with most case
histories presented for study and solution at management colleges is, to
state the obvious, that they are not
Even those based on real life companies facing problems that once
really existed, display an unhappy element of unreality. Solving such
problems in association with five or six
fellow students whom you have not
met before and are unlikely to work
with again can be fun, stimulating and
to some extent satisfying.
But it is not at all the same as the
everyday battle to keep your own
So Meat was fascinated to return
the other day to a real life company
whose problems are to some extent
typical of those besetting many other
producers at this time. And we are
very much indebted to their chief
executive, Neville Freeman, for talking
frankly about the way in which his
company is facing up to the present,
and planning for the future.
When Meat visited St Edmunds
Bacon Factory at Elmswell, Suffolk
last year it was obvious that things
were not entirely as they should be.
In the two weeks between our first
and second visits, managing director
Ken Crook resigned, and marketing
director Neville Freeman, who had
only been with the company for 12
months, suddenly found himself director and chief executive of a company
with some £5 million turnover and a
negative profit ratio.
Our conclusion at the time (Meat,
September, 1974) was that Neville
had a formidable problem on his
For years, St Edmunds had existed
primarily to maximise and stabilise
prices paid to its pig farming owners.
This had resulted in a production
oriented company making too small
and spasmodic a profit to keep in step
with its competitors.
Back in the early part of 1974 there
had in fact been a move to transfer the
company into private commercial
ownership, but negotiations proved
abortive. Then, in April, came the news
that St Edmunds had been taken over
by the giant Eastern Counties Farmers
group, whose profitability record in
recent years had been considerably
improved by the expertise of its driving
force, Tom Thomas.
So what now would happen at St
Edmunds? Would its problems prove
insoluble? Or would Freeman and
Thomas be able to make an impact?
"By the end of last year," admitted
Neville, "we were losing money at the
rate of half a million pounds on a turn-
over of £5.2 millions. We had to get
our skates on."
Much of the loss was coming from
the operation of an uneconomic distribution system. And with increasing
fuel costs and inflation generally, it
was likely to get worse.
"At the time we were committed to
daily deliveries of a highly perishable
product. An analysis indicated that 70
per cent of our business was coming
from 6 per cent of drops. We also
found that it was costing us £1.50 to
take, process and deliver an order, so
we decided not to drop anything less
"Chopping costs this way meant
reducing our van sales force by two-
thirds, but removing the part of the
operation committing us to daily
deliveries is enabling us to save about
£120,000 a year in distribution costs."
One of the casualties of the
changeover was school meal contracts, though this was perhaps no
great loss. St Edmunds had been
making 130 school deliveries a day,
some as low as 2lb of sausages per
Much more important was the
impact this had on production. Bacon
factories are usually dependent upon
pie and sausage making to use up their
trimmings. Presumably then, St Edmunds decided to change over from
fresh pies to frozen, thereby enabling
themselves to make weekly rather
than daily deliveries?
"No," said Neville, "we have
stopped making pies altogether. Considering the margins on frozen pies
relative to the amount of capital we
would have had to spend on a proper
operation, it wasn't on. Margins are
low on sales to freezer centres and
competition is tight.
"I had to see every large customer
to say that in four weeks there would
be no more pies. Fortunately they
understood the position and we have
not lost one major customer as a result.
Undoubtedly we have lost a few
customers, but the turnover we had
lost through cutting out pies andsausages was replaced in about five
weeks from increased sales of bulk
and prepacked bacon, cooked meats,
pork including prepacked which we
weren't doing before, and sausages
and sausage meat."
Some fresh sausages are still being
produced but only for bulk delivery.
They are also producing frozen
sausages, but as with frozen pies, find
the margins on these to be less than
"We would rather sell a good quality
product in relatively small quantities
than a poor product in enormous
volume," says Neville.
On the other hand much of the turnover lost through cutting out the
smaller deliveries has been made up
from a subsequent increase in demand
for sausages and sausage meat from a
Inevitably, curtailing of the distribution facilities and closure of the pie
making plant meant a substantial
reduction in the workforce - no small
matter when you are the only major
employer for miles around.
Where, only 12 months before, St
Edmunds had been faced with constant recruitment problems, they now
had to reduce thejr workforce from
478 to 300. And in doing so they
managed to secure the full co-operation of the unions involved.
"In one way, it pulled everyone
together," says Neville. "We acquainted the unions and works
committee with the financial position
last year and have kept them informed
every four weeks since then."
Stopping the buck
Though the redundancies spread
right through staff and factory floor, a
crucial factor in Neville's strategy has
been to reorganise the management
and recruit a new executive team.
David Neale, ex-Ministry of
Agriculture, has taken charge of all
buying of live and deadweight pigs.
Having also managed a pig unit, David
knows both sides of the business.
Arthur Humphrey, ex-Heinz, as
sales manager, maintains day-to-day
contact with the multiples, although
Neville Freeman is still very much involved in negotiations.
Mark Moorfoot, ex-Spillers-French,
has taken charge of accounting and
Phillip Richards, ex-Sainsbury's and
Yorkshire Farmers, has just taken over
as Works Manager.
George Sanger, ex-Lawsons of
Dyce, as Technical manager, becomes
responsible for new product development.
For the time being, Neville continues to head Marketing.
"In this business we have to
operate from week to week. Now,
when we get the weekly accounts
document, the five people who can
make an impact on it - David, Arthur,
Mark, Phillip and I can sit down
together. These are the people with
whom our profit or loss lies. They can't
say 'someone over my head is responsible'. The buck stops."
"We stand a very good chance of
breaking even this year, as long as the
economic situation doesn't get any
worse," says Neville.
"Everyone is profit oriented here
now. It's not a question of business at
any price, it's selling at the right
Nevertheless, a company of St Edmund's size needs turnover. Though
they quickly made up the £30,000 a
week deficit from the elimination of
pies and small drops of sausages,
bringing them back to the £100,000 a
week level (and at a considerably
reduced loss), they are looking for
£6.4 millions in the current year.
This represents an average of
roughly f 123,000 a week, and it has
to be achieved without the aid of any
appreciable capital expenditure.
Undaunted, Neville expects to reach
his targets largely through the
enthusiasm of his new management
team, and the philosophy - at least in
the current year - of making every
Departmental budgets are being
rigorously examined by the manager
concerned in co-operation with an accountant and work study specialist.
Each manager has to ask himself why
he needs a particular item, how much
profit it will bring and over what period
of time in terms of extra output or
savings. For example, if delivery
vehicles were previously changed at
80,000 miles, they now have to ask
themselves how much extra
maintenance cost would be involved in
keeping the vehicle for another year.
Although this may seem an elementary exercise, it is surprising how
seldom these simple criteria are
employed in the production of
budgets. Managers usually find it more
expedient to add a percentage to last
year's figures for inflation plus a little
extra - depending on what they think
they can get away with - for expansion.
Elementary it may be, but St Edmunds are finding that the system of
questioning every item of expenditure
is already producing results. Managers
are deciding voluntarily to cut back
their own budgets.
Cost control alone, however, will
not of itself guarantee profitability.
By far the highest cost item in a
bacon factory is the meat itself. St Edmunds are tackling this in several
ways. First priority has been to put in a
system to control yields and
throughputs to make sure that they are
not losing meat along the way.
A spin-off from this rethink has
been the reduction of massaging times
on ham by 50 per cent.
Originally - possibly at the equipment manufacturers' suggestion -
they had been using a 24-hour
massaging cycle, agitating the meat
for 45 minutes in each hour, but they
were not entirely satisfied with the
texture of the finished product.
Now after examining techniques at
a continental production unit, they
have reduced massaging time to 12
hours, maintaining yields and finding
that the finished product holds
Another inexpensive innovation has
been to build a cabinet that enables
them to load and secure ham pots
under vacuum. This minimises the risk
of elongated holes in. the finished
product. (Quite a bright idea this for
ham producers who have not gone
over to complete vacuum forming
At the same time, St Edmunds are
increasing throughput of Wiltshire
cured hams which they used to
produce and are now returning to
following development of an improved
cure which gives better flavour, conformity and texture.
Throughput of pigs has been
stepped up from 1,500 to 2,000 a
week, with much tighter
Where, little more than a year ago.
the weight range of pigs coming into
the factory was from 7½ to 10½ score
(reduced to 7½ to 9½ last April), the
new 1975 contracts are from 7½ to 9
score, with a target of 8 to 8¼ score.
"We are not in a business that
needs a lot of fat trimmings," says
David Neal. "We'd rather deal in high
value products than low-margin by-
product value. Our retail trade wants a
leg of 18 lb maximum against some
we were getting at 24 lb."
So the move is away from heavy
hogs to quality cutters. This means
that farmers will have to pay more
attention to genetics, feeding and
weighing, but David believes their new
top probe pig with 18 mm maximum
back fat is probably more economical
to produce anyway, because the
producer will not incur the excessive
feed costs that accompany the
deposition of fat.
"At the same time production yields
in the factory will improve and in the
long term this should bring better
margins all along the line," David
With the decision to concentrate on
bacon and cooked meats, the requirement for trimmings, previously used
for sausages and pies has become
Tighter pig specifications will eventually reduce the volume of unwanted
trimmings, but what happens to the
"Bacon trimmings are being sold to
a meat paste manufacturer," said
Neville, "and fresh meat goes in bulk
to pie manufacturers. And, after your
article last September, I had a call
from an old colleague which resulted
in his taking up to 1,500 pigs worth of
offal a week for his supermarkets.
"We are also developing new
products to use up trimmings. George
Sanger, our technical manager, has
just got corned pork off the ground.
Retailers can sell this at half the price
of corned beef."
Although their main aim is obviously
to increasd turnover on existing
products, particularly cooked meats
and prepacked pork and bacon, St Edmunds are obviously very keen to
develop new lines, both in conjunction
with large multiples and under their
own label, especiaily where this helps
them make better use of trimmings.
One relatively new line that caught
our eye was 'fresh pork escalopes',
which if they taste as good as they
look, could prove a winner.
St Edmunds, then, having passed
through a pretty traumatic year, now
look set for a much brighter future.
Whatever happens on the economic
front, their eventual progress seems
But in the long term one wonders
whether ownership and operation of a
meat processing and marketing plant
really fits in with ECF plans. Or will
ECF eventually decide to sell St Edmunds to a commercial undertaking?
Time will tell.
Super Marketing, July 25, 1975
Farm Kitchen spreads out
DELIVERIES of Farm Kitchen
Foods' new frozen croquettes
range began this week and it is
fully expected that a further range
of pork sausages, prepacked
bacon, frozen chops and a new
"breakfast fry" will follow.
The new croquettes are available in four flavours: savoury
pork; chicken and ham; ham and
egg; and liver and bacon. They
all contain a minimum of 40%
meat and are coated in bread-
crumbs before being flash cooked.
Neville Freeman, managing
director, describes the new
croquettes as a significant shift of
"At the beginning of last year
our operations were severely
rationalised for financial reasons
and all pies and similar fresh products previously marketed were
axed; now with the help of a blast
freezer and our ovm 180,000 cu ft
cold store we are embarking on a
programme of planned expansion."
Farm Kitchen Foods is the
brand name of St Edmunds Bacon
Factory, which is owned by Eastern Counties Farmers, a farmer-owned co-operative established in
Meat, September 1975
FARM KITCHEN FOODS of Suffolk
have launched a range of frozen croquettes specially formulated for the
frozen food market. The croquettes
are available in four flavours
- savoury pork, chicken and ham,
ham and egg, and liver and bacon.
The range will also be extended to
include frozen pork sausages, prepacked bacon, frozen chops, a new
"breakfast fry" and other pork based
Neville Freeman, managing director of the company, sees this as a significant move. "At the beginning of
last year, our operations were
severely rationalised for financial
reasons and all pies and similar fresh
products previously marketed were
axed. Now, with the introduction of a
blast freezer and our own 180,000 cu.
ft. cold store, we are embarking on a
programme of planned expansion.
Frozen foods are an important
development area for us, particularly
products that are complementary to
our main processing operations."
"We took over a loss situation and a complete reversal of the trend was necessary to just survive"
St Edmunds Bacon Co Elmswell
When Eastern Counties Farmers
Cooperative took over the ailing
St. Edmunds Bacon Company at
Elmswell in April 1974, it very soon
became clear that drastic action
was necessary if they were to stay
A complete change of management
took place in the Autumn of '74 and
Neville Freeman was made Chief
Executive. ln early 1975 he was
joined by Philip Richards, the
present Operations Director, and
Mark Moorfoot who is now
Heavy Losses Turned lnto
Losses of around half a million
pounds were recorded for the
company's financial year '74-'75,
and not only has Neville Freeman,
(with the help of his able team of
managers and the full cooperation
of his total workforce), ensured
St. Edmunds of survival, but
also he has turned those abysmal
losses into a £300,000 profit for the
year ending December 1976.
Wide Experience in Business
How has this been achieved?
Simply by taking a long, cool,
objective look at St. Edmunds and
then making the necessary,
sometimes difficult, changes.
Neville Freeman and Philip Richards
are perhaps better equipped than
most managers in the meat
industry to be objective. Both their
careers have given them experience in industries other than meat,
which enabled them to define what
was required in business terms.
They are not hide-bound by the idea that this trade is different, and
that normal procedures, applied
throughout industry generally, will
not work! As far as they are
concerned they have a raw material, the pig - which has to be turned
into a profitable finished product -
i.e. bacon, cooked meats or chops.
An excellent middle management
at Elmswell, well and truly
informed about meat, turns their
plans into reality.
Changing Fortunes Due to
The 'about-turn' at Elmswell cannot be attributed to one specific
reason, many factors were responsible.
- Firstly it was decided to
concentrate on pre-packed bacon,
cooked meats, and 'tailored' pork;
dropping pie production completely and producing less but
better quality sausages.
- Secondly, the labour-force
which stood at about 500 in 1974
was cut back the following year to
300. A difficult but necessary
step if jobs for those remaining
were to be secured.
- Thirdly, they looked at both
their customers and their suppliers.
Now, when buying pigs, St.
Edmunds have the advantage of
their relationship with the ECF
Cooperative. Seventeen producers,
all members of the ECF, have
formed a Syndicate supplying
Elmswell with over 60% of their
pigs. One producer alone sends
500 pigs per week, and that's out
of a total throughput of 2600 per
Likewise their customers are now
fewer but they are mainly bulk
buyers like Marks and Spencer,
Waitrose and Safeway. 70% of
St. Edmunds trade is with multiples, at the quality end of the
"With fewer customers, less time
is spent on talk alrd discussion",
said Philip Richards, "and with 17
producers giving us 60% of our
pigs, it is possible to all get round a
table and decide on policies for
Finally at Elmswell, they became
mechanised, spending, since 1975,
around £250,000 on the modern
equipment necessary if they were
to compete with other producers in
Yield Improvement a Priority
"Machinery must be justified in
terms of money in order to get the
board's agreement" said Neville
Freeman. Therefore yield improvement was one of the major
priorities when the company
embarked on the purphase of new
Here Townsend came up trumps.
Their first Townsend Derinder was
quickly followed by a second and
the 39 Cleaver caused such an
increased demand for the products
cut on it, (due to improved presentation), that the larger model,
the 81 Cleaver was bought 3 weeks
"We chose Townsend because
they are yield-orientated" said
Philip Richards. "They are not just
selling equipment, they are solving
problems. The first Derinder we
bought paid for itself in 10 days in
yield improvement. Anyway it's
the only machine we know of, that
will derind backs without tearing
the eye muscle. On top of this
production increased. When we
boned out and removed the rind by
hand it took 3.17 minutes per back,
now, with the machine derinding,
it takes 2.49 minutes".
Thumbs Up For Townsend's
They have 3 Derinders at Elmswell, 2 of which are Townsend.
Anyone who operates the Derinders will tell you the yield from
the Townsend machine is far
Dick Piggott, Manager, Fresh Pork
& Pork Cutting, had this to say:-
"From the Townsend machine it is
complete rind, from the other it's
fat and rind, simply because the
Townsend Derinder does it's job
that much better". Apart from the
yield improvement the job is
deskilled which obviates the
necessity to employ more butchers
as production increases. Also, as
Philip Richards pointed out, "As
butchers get older they quite
naturally slow down and working
on a fast deboning line can be a
strain for them; even dangerous if
they try to keep up with younger
men. They can now be used on the
less skilful tasks like derinding".
In business terms Neville Freeman
summed up like this: "We purchase a very high quality raw
material. Bearing this in mind we
can't afford to remove rind and fat -
only rind. Hand operation is much
less su re of that".
One Cleaver - Then Two
The 39 Cleaver was bought initially
to cut pork chops. St. Edmunds had
decided to equip a new department
for fresh pork in October 1976,
with the object of marketing what
they call 'tailored pork'. This
includes retail packs of chops,
escalopes, leg and shoulder steaks,
as well as family joints of boned
shoulder or leg stuffed with sage
The small Cleaver improved the
acceptability of the product so
much that the increase in volume
of sales overtook its production
capacity and within 3 weeks a
second Cleaver, the larger model
81, was bought.
Now the model 81 is incorporated
in the pork cutting line producing
pork chops, escalopes apd steaks,
whilst the 39 is involved with
bacon production cutting gammon
steaks and the relatively new and
very successful bacon chop.
"The Cleaver", says Neville
Freeman, "enables us to provide a
product that is acceptable to our
very discerning customers. This
in turn creates an increase in
demand for that same product and
happily the Cleaver then copes
with the resulting increase in our
Before the pork cutting room was
re-equipped the chops, steaks and
escalopes were cut on a bandsaw.
"This produced a lot of bone
dust", said Dick Piggott, "and
was much, much slower producing
an inferior product. Now we run at
the rate of 180 slices per minute.
With the bandsaw we were lucky if
we got 60".
Philip Richards, who has a maths
degree specialising in statistics,
is the man to talk to about percentage savings and yield improvements. He will tell you that the
Cleaver, merely by cutting out
bone dust, gives a 2% saving on
yield, and that the Derinder used
on backs at Elmswell saves them
up to 1.36 lbs per back, due to it's
accurate separation of rind from
Apart from this, he is also very
enthusiastic about the Cleaver's
speed of operation and the improvement it makes on " presentation. "The bacon line was
always a bottleneck. Now with the
39 Cleaver, operated by a female,
it runs smoothly producing gammon
steaks at the rate of 12,000lbs
per week as well as 6,000lbs of
bacon chops. It runs from 7.30 in
the morning until 10 o'clock at
5 Year Plan
St. Edmunds plan to spend a lot of
money during the five years
beginning 1976 on expansion and
improvements to premises and
machinery. A £1.6 million project
(1976 prices) is going ahead.
As a result their whole image as a
company has changed. They intend
to become leaders in meat marketing, not only in this country,
but also in Europe. Initially in pork,
but in the near future 'tailored'
lamb is a distinct probability.
St. Edmunds hope to build up the
same relationship with lamb
producing members of the ECF as
they have done with the pig
farmers. As tar as long-term
planning goes beef is also under
Aiming For European Market
improvements to the lairage and
abattoir to bring them up to EEC
standards are underway and they
are developing continental products with a view to going into
Europe in 1979, with particular
emphasis on Germany which is a
country that consumes a great deal
of pork. Geographically placed as
they are, St. Edmunds will find it
quicker to export to Europe than to
transport to Newcastle.
Automatic Rail For Abattoir
At the moment the pigs are pushed
manually along the rail in the
abattoir and therefore the Best &
Donovan Hog Splitter supplied by
Townsend is not able to demonstrate it's speed of operation to the
However, once the new automatic
rail is completed, (it is now being
installed), the rate of pigs per hour
should rise from 90 to anything
from 120-150 and the Best &
Donovan will cope easily.
Another 1000 Pigs Per Week
By Next Year
2600 pigs pass through the
Elmswell factory per week at
present compared with 1400 a year
ago, but next year 3500 are forecast. This should boost their
turnover accordingly which last
year reached £7.5 million. £10-11
million is hoped for and with all
the improvements already completed, not to mention the planned
ones, there seems no reason why
this should not happen.
||Click on a picture to enlarge
MEAT, JANUARY, 1977
St Edmunds move into profit
QUITE THE BEST piece of news we
received in December was that St
Edmunds Bacon Factory at Elmswell
has moved firmly into profitability.
Two years ago (MEAT Sept 1974,
page 21) they were losing money at a
prodigious rate, when Neville Freeman
was appointed Chief Executive and
Director. A few months later (MEAT
May 1975, page 23) it had become
clear that their losses had been running
at the rate of half a million pounds a
year on a turnover at that time of £5.2
Drastic action, including a reduction
in the workforce from 478 to 300, cutting out their school meals contracts,
closing their pie making plant and van
sales service, eventually resulted in a
reduced loss of £160,000 on a turnover of £5.7 millions in 1975. In true
terms, taking inflation .into account,
this turnover was really much lower
than in the previous year.
By comparison, then, their net profit,
after tax, of around £250,000 on a
turnover of £7½ millions up to the end
of December, 1976 is little short of
Though part of the increase is
obviously due to inflation, there can be
no doubt that it also represents a significant increase in volume. Pig kill is
up from an average of around 1700 a
week in 1975 to around 2000 in 1976
and they are also buying in meat.
"No one thing has turned the
business round", says Neville Freeman.
"It is due to a combination of factors.
We started with a situation where
we decided to do only those things we
could do well, which meant cutting out
the peripherals. We decided to concentrate on bacon, pre-packed bacon,
cooked meats and tailored pork; cutting out pies, and croquettes and
reducing our sausage production from
80,000 lb to 15,000 lb a week.
We also reduced our number of
vans from 32 to 12. The bulk of our
business is now done through bulk
deliveries rather than van sales.
This clarified in our minds the task
we had to do - which was selling
enough in those remaining areas at
prices that would show us a profit.
"We set about it by increasing the
amount of business that we were doing
with existing large bulk drop
customers, mainly 'own-label' multiples like Marks & Spencers and
Safeway. We also started doing
business with Waitrose and Wallis
Supermarkets and started packing for
other major manufacturers - one of
whom provided us with equipment to
operate on his behalf.
Thrown out computer
"A major factor in the success of the
operation has been the appointment
of key executives, particularly Philip
Richards (ex-Sainsbury and Yorkshire
Farmers) on production and Mark
Moorfoot (ex-Spillers-French) on
finance and administration. Philip provided us with the ability
to plan constructively in a production
situation, but also, because he's
intelligent and bright, to contribute to
overall policy in the company. Mark's first job was to sort out and
provide the information I required here
to make sensible decisions. We had a
lot of information floating about here
before, but not in a format that enabled
decisions to be based on it.
He also slung out the computer
and replaced it with people. lt was
useless and should never have been
bought. Getting rid of our computer
has saved us money and given us
better informatron. It's far more
efficient to do the job manually."
Improved financial information has
also led to a substantial improvement
in their cash-flow position. Their bank
overdraft has been as high as
£340,000 a week; now it touches as
low as £80,000, largely, says Neville,
due to the understanding of the
customers they deal with. "Until it
became apparent from the figures", he
told us, "I suppose like a lot of
executives, I simply hadn't realised
how important it is to keep your cash
flow right and your borrowings down."
Earlier, comments Mark Moorfoot,
they had been going to their parent
company, Eastern Counties Farmers,
two or three times a week for more
money. Since June of 1975, however, with improvements in their
credit control procedures and the more
recent operating profitability they have
been able to finance themselves completely, working well below their overdraft limit.
Even so, Neville is looking for an
increase in ceiling to half a million
pounds, to enable him to finance the
expansion in cooked meats sales which
he is convinced will be coming in
1977 /78 as the MCA position
becomes less favourable to overseas
"We believe we are now as efficient
as most people in our area", says Mark.
"We are down to 28 days on our sales
ledgers, and we know exactly where
we are on control of stock levels and
work in progress."
But as Neville points out, none of
these factors could possibly have produced the turnabout by themselves.
One of the key elements has been the
all-out co-operation of the unions and
"ln the initial stages", says Neville,
"we called the entire workforce into
the canteen and put the facts to them
squarely. I told them that I wasn't
Jesus Christ - I couldn't work miracles.
We were in a backs-to-the-wall situation and could only get ourselves out if
we all pulled together. No one person
could do it alone.
"Since then, we've kept the unions
fully informed on sales turnover and
profitabitity. We don't buy a piece of
machinery until we've consulted with
the people who are going to use it -
after all, they probably know more
about it than the management.
"We set out to get our relationships
right, and I think we've succeeded. I've
got to know at least 75 per cent of our
people by their Christian names, which
helps the relationships situation.
We've also improved relationships
with our producers and formed what
we call the 'Elmswell Club', for the 17
or so producers who provide 65 to 75
per cent of our raw materials. We
agreed to pay them competitive prices,
but we also bring them round in small
groups to explain what is happening.
They all have shares in ECF, so indirectly they also own St Edmunds.
We hold quarterly meetings for the
producers to give a progress report on
what we've achieved since the last
meeting and to tell them what we are
planning to do. This gives us the opportunity to explain how it affects them in
terms of the quality of product we
For instance, we are now aiming at
lean meat on the legs and shoulders as
well as on the middles. This is a slightly
different situation to the buying of
bacon pigs because not only are we in
the bacon business, but also on cooked
meats and tailored pork which take the
In a way, it was expenditure on a
new cold store and pork cutting line
(around £90,000) that brought St Edmunds to crisis point a couple of years
back. They'd been banking on a FEOGA
grant which didn't materialise. But
apart from those two capital projects,
they had been severely handicapped by
shortage of funds. Their real capital
budget for updating the plant and
developing new products had probably
not exceeded £50,000 over two years
which meant that, at best, they had
only been able to afford to buy second-
hand machinery and make no structural improvements to their less than
adequate production areas.
Since the beginning of 1975,
however, there have been considerable
improvements, resulting from expenditure of about £250,000 - still very
modest in relation to turnover, but high
in the boost it has given to morale and
customer relationships. At last people
can see that the company is becoming
successful and that their efforts have
not been in vain.
Almost all of the investment has
gone into cooked meats, the 'tailored
pork' area and the sausage room. By
the spring of 1977 they hope to have
started the initial improvements to
their slaughter hall which are designed
to bring the whole plant up to EEC
standards, even though there is no
immediate plan to start exporting.
In the cooked meats
they have installed air-conditioning in
the preparation, cooking and packing
departments. Chilling facilities have
been increased and the packing department turned into an aseptic area,
refurbished to EEC standards.
New equipment includes a Protecon
vacuum ham press, a Sumann cooker,
a Dixie-Union slicer and an additional
Multivac thermo former working exclusively on the pre-packing of sliced
cooked meats. Their Fessman smoke
cabinets which they were so pleased
with two years ago have had to be
turned over from rapid smoking to
cooking, purely as an expedient to keep
up with the increasing demand. In turn,
their old smoking chambers, driven by
a massive aeroplane propellor and admittedly less efficient, have had to be
refurbished and brought out of retirement.
In addition, a new EEC standard
room is being constructed to house
is already being produced in a newly constructed room,
again air-conditioned and built to EEC
hygiene standards. In it, they have installed a new shrink-wrap tunnel unit
for stuffed pork shoulder joints (and
later for the shrink-wrapping of boned-
out leg loints) and a new production
line for pork chops, pork escalopes and,
in future, belly slices.
This consists of a new Bettcher
cleaver, feeding an llapak 'Cobra'
stretch tray wrapper. Business has
been so brisk on tailored pork, and so
many new products have been
requested by supermarket customers
that they have had to treble production, compensating for the usual
seasonal decline in cooked meats
business. To help cope, they have also
installed a larger, additional Bettcher
cleaver which handles more loins at a
Sausages, from the drastically
reduced level of 15,000 lb per week a
year or so ago, are currently running at
around 60,000 lb per week, 'And now
at sensible margins and on a bulk
delivery basis', as Mark Moorfoot puts
In the sausage department, reorganisation has now given them two
lines; one from four existing batch
fillers, the other from a newly acquired
KS continuous filler, coupled to a
Famco automatic linker.
More orders for sausages are
expected early this year, which will
necessitate further improvements in
their packaging lines. Consequently, a
new Carrington packaging line is being
brought in for trials.
The bulk of their production now
consists of top quality sausages sold at
a premium price, with the remainder
being mainly frozen catering sausages,
sold under St Edmunds' own Farm
Marks & Spencers
Premium grade fresh sausages go
mainly on daily delivery to Marks and
Spencers, for whom they are currently
sole suppliers. In addition M & S take
substantial deliveries of fresh sausage
"Marks & Spencers have been very
understanding during our difficulties",
commented Neville Freeman, "They
now represent around 20 to 22 per
cent of our business, and we are very
happy to continue building up business
with them, providing, of course, that
we can maintain the current level of
Some of our directors were
perhaps reluctant at first about the idea
of developing so large a proportion of
our business with people who have
such enormous buying power, but I
think they are now beginning to realise
that M & S are scrupulously fair in their
dealings and we've built up a very good
relationship with them.
"Because we are shipping so much
to them, including, for example, around
4,500 trays of product a week on the
Faversham run, we've just paid
£23,500 for a railed Bonallack
refrigerated container and Scania
tractor, which can carry chilled and
frozen product, and if necessary,
carcasses on the rails as well. Our
distribution manager waxes quite
lyrical about it!"
Looking back, Mark Moorfoot
believes the decisions they made during the re-appraisal period were the
right ones. The cut-back on staffing
and rationalisation of production to cut
out non-profitable and low turnover
lines and small calls on perishable
goods has certainly helped.
But the profits have come from expansion of business with existing and
new multiple customers, and doing
more for them.
"Instead of selling tons of whole
backs and bacon backs", he says, "we
are now doing a substantial business in
I see us carrying on with our expansion, modernising the plant and
becoming even more profitable than
we are now.
We'll be looking to increase our
throughput on pigs. Although we can
slaughter 2¼ to 3 thousand a week
with our present facilities, we can't
bone that many out. So we are starting
training courses and release courses at
schools. We have to be prepared for
the new situation that will exist in
1977/78 when the MCA position
"We are also looking at the
possibility of going into lambs; killing,
jointing and sending out in consumer
packs. We want to develop even more
as a food manufacturing unit, and
maybe we can achieve this by developing a similar relationship with lamb
producer members of ECF to that
which we have with pig farmers.
Already we have had talks with
supermarket chains who understand
the seasonality of the lamb trade and
who will bear with us. By supplying
them with lamb-especially deboned
lamb-cut to their specifications we
believe we can develop something udsr
them that will enable us to earn a profit
and gives them better quality. We may
also be able to build up a carcase trade
with East Anglian butchers."
Neville Freeman is confident that he
has built up a team of people who are
flexible and can respond to changes in
customer demand faster than most
other large suppliers. A major advantage when dealing with big customers.
The atmosphere at St Edmunds has
changed completely. They've worked
hard and can see that their efforts
have been rewarded by success.
"My only worry now", says Neville,
"is that some people may now sit back
and think they have done enough. That
would be fatal.
What we have achieved so far is
only a beginning. We've solved our
critical problems for the time being, but
there is still a great deal to be done."
FROZEN FOODS April 1977
Farmers master fleet operations
by James Hartley
At the end of March, Eastern Counties
Farmers Ltd. , the country's second biggest
farmers' co-operative with 8,800 members,
announced a profit increase of just over 50
per cent for 1976, passing the £l million
mark for the first time. Actual net audited
profits were £l.2l million for the year ending December 3l compared with £953,000
the previous year.
So what, you may well ask, has this to do
with refrigerated transport? The answer is
simple: it is the reason for this article. How
does a small company enter the IQF and
refrigerated transport industry?
It was only in 1965 that ECF's subsidiary, St. Edmunds Factory which now
trades as Farm Kitchen Foods, first entered the frozen foods business. So let's
read an extract from the ECF report of
chairman John Cross.
'Particularly pleasing', he said, 'has been
the remarkable turnround at St. Edmunds
bacon factory. Although the meat processing industry generally has experienced
serious problems during the year and pig
producers are still going through a very
difficult time, sales of food products from
St. Edmunds increased by 3l per cent to
He added that St. Edmunds now have a
strong and profitable pig marketing operation, and partly as a result ofthe success of
the bacon factory, ECF begins a 'new era'
with the appointment of Neville Freeman
of the bacon factory as chairman and managing director, responsible for livestock
services on a group basis.
What lies behind this remarkable success
story is the entrance of an old fashioned
company into the modern world of frozen
St. Edmunds was founded in 1911 as a
farmer co-operative, designed to produce
green or smoked bacon and pork ready for
sale in whole sides. The company made
reasonable profits through the Twenties,
Thirties and War Years until the end of
controls when the Danes began to compete
in the UK market. By the end of the 1950s
and early 1960s it became a different ball
game, with losses, sometimes substantial,
being incurred. The answer was to diversify. But how and into what?
Pig meat has always needed preservation, whether by traditional brine curing to
produce bacon. or by temperature control
for fresh pork. Given pig meat as the raw
material plus temperature controlled vehicles - which in those days were simply
insulated vans with air cooling - it seemed
natural to investigate the same market and
so a pie department producing Scotch eggs
and various pies was opened.
Air control was not adequate for these
products and so liquid CO2
'It was very cheap' recalls transport manager John Millman, 'and very primitive. It
was also very difficult to get any type of
serious control at about 35°F which is what
we were aiming for'.
On short runs with traditional customers
on sales vans this worked for a number of
years but then the company, which had
always had a strong reputation for quality
of product, attracted two large new customers with very strong ideas about proper
temperature control. They were Marks and
Spencer and the United States Air Force.
Frozen, instead of chilled, pies were requested. 'We went to Petters', said Mr.
Millman, 'because we knew them at Stowmarket and because I thought mechanical
refrigeration was cheaper and better.
'We are still with Petters', he added, 'because the service they give us is absolutely
first class both in this area and over trunker
routes. lf we have a vehicle stuck in Leeds
or Southampton, we have always had a
service engineer there within a very short
period of time'.
As business developed, the company
built a new chill room so that products
could be pre-chilled before loading.
As replacement vehicles for local deliveries were needed the company purchased 2 ton Commers fitted with Hubbard
refrigeration units. For short drops the
company currently maintains seven of
these vehicles fitted with Hubbard H400H
units and seven British Leyland 420 FGs
which are insulated only.
One of the main problems at this time
was loading. Marks & Spencer specified
35°F delivery temperature. The chill room,
however, was situated immediately beside
the loading bay and heavy duty curtains
between chill and vehicle helped to maintain the required temperature.
Business, however, on the frozen food
side continued to develop and it became
clear to the company that these facilities
were no longer adequate, especially as
Safeways and other large quality conscious
companies wished to develop their trade.
At this time St. Edmunds built a completely new cold store. 'We almost went
broke doing it' said managing director
Neville Freeman. This has blast freezing
facilities and provided a totally new product capability.
Long distance vehicles for large drops
into customer cold stores or distribution
points were gradually introduced. At this
stage it should be noted that no farmer cooperative is ever over-rich in terms of capital, and St. Edmunds at that time was no
A new name, 'Farm Kitchen Foods',
was introduced so that today the company
sells its own product as Farm Kitchen as
well as handling a large number of own
The fleet of refrigerated vehicles was expanded. Today Farm Kitchen has five rigid
frame British Leyland Boxer 1425 vehicles,
fitted with 150 Bonallack insulated containers and equipped, on the refrigeration
side, with Petters FM20DG units. These
will maintain temperatures down to minus
As the larger customers have increased,
both in number and in size of order, so has
the need grown for trunker vehicles. Today, Farm Kitchen has three tractor units ,
consisting of two Scania F81 units and one
ERF, which are used for three semi-
trailers, all Bonallacks, two 32 ft. KL20s
and one 40 ft. Refrigeration units are Petters. The units are used on runs to Bristol,
Leeds, London and Liverpool, and most of
them are serviced on a daily basis.
The cold store is equipped with electrical
points so that the trailers can be temperature controlled whilst awaiting the tractor
units. 'One of our biggest problems', said
Mr. Millman, 'has been training our drivers
to the importance of temperature control.'
He added: 'We have been very lucky. All
our drivers, except one, are local men and
they have been quick to appreciate the importance of good control. There is no point
having lots of people in a factory working
hard to produce good products, if the driver
is unable to deliver them in best condition.'