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From Farm to fork: how Made Smarter is giving Lancashire food and drink makers the ingredients for digitalisation

Flavourfresh Salads
Flavourfresh Salads

Technology adoption programme targets support at SMEs

Free guide aims to demystify digitalisation and help companies take first step

Food and drink makers in Lancashire, with the support of Made Smarter, are using technology and digital skills to navigate the major challenges of coronavirus, Brexit, and climate change.

The Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West, a collaboration between UK government and industry designed to support the increased use of digital technologies, has worked with dozens of SMEs across the entire supply chain from farm to fork to capitalise on the multitude of benefits that digitalisation offers.

Through impartial expert technology advice and match funding on technology projects, digital transformation workshops to help manufacturers take their first steps, a leadership programme, digital technology internships, and skills development, it is helping businesses in the sector increase productivity, achieve sustainable growth, and create new high value jobs.

Among those working with Made Smarter on technology projects are:

  • Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses, based in Preston, invested in software systems.
  • Nutree Life, a manufacturer of vegan and free-from protein bars, based in Burscough, invested in automation technologies.
  • Len Wright Salads, a prepared salad manufacturer based in Tarleton, embarked on an IT data and systems integration project to help its factory process more, using less energy and creating less waste. Ultimately, they’re expected to cut £25,000 per year from their energy bill, and boost sales by 0.5%.
  • Flavourfresh Salads, a salad and fruit producer based in Southport, was previously grounded in tradition, and depended on paper-based processes. Now they have a quality control system in place through digital technologies, which captures and analyses data from greenhouse all the way through to dispatch, giving the business real-time oversight. It has allowed them to increase productivity and reduce waste by 3%. This shows just how important it is to connect all systems and digitalise the entire supply chain.
  • Dewlay Cheesemakers, based in Garstang, invested in data and systems integration technology to enable real-time data to monitor efficiency and yields to help increase productivity.
  • The Barking Bakery, a Blackpool based manufacturer of pet treats such as cup-cakes and popcorn.
  • The Protein Lab, a manufacturer of protein powders and supplements based in Blackpool
  • My Fish Company, based in Fleetwood, supplying sustainably sourced fish and seafood to hotels and restaurants.
  • Lansdale Nurseries, a salad producer in Ormskirk.
  • Fylde Fresh and Fabulous, a potato producer in Preston.

Nutree Life experienced a sudden upsurge of order at the beginning of the first pandemic lockdown. But having adopted a bespoke solution to upgrade their production line earlier in the year, with support from Made Smarter, they were primed to fulfil this demand through high volume, high speed and more precise production.

The success accelerated Nutree Life’s digitalisation plans to upgrade a second production line with the same advanced technology and linking the entire system to harness more data to improve performance.

The business is now on target to almost quadruple its turnover and has doubled its workforce.

Patrick Mroczak, Co-Founder and CEO, said: “With other food producers cutting ranges to focus on volume, customers are looking for alternatives, which has created an opportunity for us. There is no doubt that without investing when we did, in the way that we did, with the help from Made Smarter, we would not be able to cope with this unprecedented increase in demand.

“When we approached Made Smarter for help with upgrading our production process, I never imagined that we’d achieve so much so fast. Made Smarter made us think bigger and smarter, encouraging us to capture manufacturing data as a way of improving the accuracy and consistency of the product. It has given us the platform and the confidence to take that next step.”

Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses has been wrestling with supply chain disruption during the pandemic.

Matthew Hall, Commercial Director, said investing in software systems enabled the business to be more flexible and agile.

“As an artisan producer we are about innovation, it’s in our DNA,” he said. “That includes the manufacturing process which can be labour intensive but adds value to that finished product, but then there are other auxiliary processes which are labour intensive but don’t add value.

“Working with Made Smarter we identified the solution lay with planning and systems, and we looked to increase and integrate that robust process control across our departments. That enabled greater transparency of information and allowed us to be more agile, to have that information at our fingertips and be able to react to changing customer demands.”

These success stories illustrate the positive impact that digitalisation can have on a sector worth £3.3bn in the North West and that employs more than 45,000 people.

Made Smarter, which has supported hundreds of businesses to deliver an additional £176 million in gross value added, is now keen to reach more SMEs across the entire food and drink supply chain and has produced a free guide to help demystify digitalisation and drive technology adoption.

The downloadable document includes topics such as how to get started with digital technologies, infrastructure management, increasing control, reducing waste and boosting sustainability, enhancing traceability, and how to hit new trends.

Alain Dilworth, North West Adoption Programme Manager at Made Smarter, said: “While the North West is home to some of the food industry’s biggest names such as Nestle, Heinz, and Kellogg’s, it is also brimming with innovative small and medium sized enterprises across the entire supply chain, working hard to ensure we continue to enjoy our favourite food and drink from farm to fork.

“The triple challenge of the pandemic, Brexit and the net zero agenda, have created a perfect storm for the food and drink industry, impacting SMEs more than most. But despite these pressures, many of these businesses have shown resilience and determination to keep up with the fast moving industry and are working with Made Smarter on their digital transformation.

“From using robotics and process control technologies to improve sustainability and automating data collection points to create a line of traceability, technologies are not only helping producers overcome challenges, but also unlock a whole host of opportunities.

“To help demystify digitalisation and help SMEs to their first step, we have produced some crucial guidance as well as explained why implementing digital tools is such a priority in this sector.”

To download the free guide visit: www.madesmarter.uk/resources/guide-food-and-drink-manufacturing-is-changing

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