This month. I was so proud Westaway Sausages won UK Meat, Seafood and Poultry Manufacturer of the Year. It was just reward for the hard yards put in by the team.
There are very few barriers to setting up a sausage company, but not many food companies progress from start-up through scaleup, to grow-up and then to the dominate stage. The Food and Drink Industry is hugely competitive. Westaways is not yet dominating, but I believe it can and will.
Westaways as a brand has always innovated, and our strategy around sustainability has been timely, and we have built the knowledge and experience to now develop this further. This is when our competitors are struggling to deliver real improvement in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria.
Complacency breeds failure, so what else should we be doing? We are ruthlessly efficient in any routines, but last week we took another step forward with the commissioning of new equipment.
Our process is the same as any butcher’s shop, we mince fresh pork trims, we mix with seasonings, and we fill into casing. The process is called “mince and mix”. It is batch manufacture rather than continuous process.
A continuous process could involve grinding frozen pork trims, bowl chopping and then pumping to a silo to then deliver straight into a filler and maybe use an alginate dip rather than a casing. This is clearly less labour intensive and ideally suited to long production runs of the same recipe and pack style.
For a long time, the food industry has relied upon large-scale continuous process. Traditionally businesses started as batch manufacture and as they scaled up so with economy of scale they invested in continuous process.
It could be argued that batch manufacture has certain advantages in today’s market. In fact, nearly half of all the food production in the UK is now by batch.
· Speciality products, such as gluten free, specific welfare or additive free can be segregated.
· Product diversification, process can be modified easily.
· Exact production to requirements, no over production.
· No overuse of resources, such as energy.
· Traceability, shorter supply chains, no stock building needed.
· Just in time production, to give maximum life on chilled lines.
· Flexibility to react quickly to opportunities.
Technology is changing every aspect of manufacturing. A new investment showed exactly this.
We produce around 120 different combinations of recipe, size, casing types and pack sizes of sausages, chubs, and puddings off three different production lines. It is very rare that one line will produce the same specification for more than 2 hours.
Following a visit to a sausage plant in Ireland Production and Technical had argued the case for investing in a new model of the existing filler we use and coupled to this they included scales and direct link from the filler to a company server and some fancy software.
Last week the equipment was commissioned in our factory. The system uses Artificial Intelligence to learn the best settings on each specification, it constantly adjusts weights to provide consistency of weight and size.
Not only does this reduce giveaway but it also improves the accuracy of cutting, as a more uniform product is supplied to the knives.
It goes without saying the team in production love it because set up time between batches is already cut dramatically.
Also, we can view real time up to 30 different parameters to maximise efficiency of any shift and ensure our costings are accurate.
Sustainability is about doing more with less, and this is a textbook case of doing exactly that.