Lancashire food and drink firms are beating the economic problems thanks to digital investment

Lancashire businesses have found investing in digital technology has helped navigate the choppy waters of coronavirus, Brexit, and climate change.

By Tim Gavell
Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 4:55 am

County food and drink makers have found upgrading with the help of the county’s Made Smarter Adoption Programme has increase productivity, achieve sustainable growth, and create new high value jobs.

The scheme has worked with dozens of SMEs across the supply chain from farm to fork to capitalise on the many benefits that digitalisation can offer.

Among those who have benefited are Butlers Farmhouse Cheese near Preston and Nutree Life, Nutree Life, a manufacturer of vegan and free-from protein bars, based in Burscough.

Matthew Hall, commercial director at Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses

Also making use of th3e services are Barking Bakery, the 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 and My Fish Company, based in Fleetwood, supplying sustainably sourced fish and seafood to hotels and restaurants.

Matthew Hall, commercial director at Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses, which invested in data and systems integration technology said the move enabled the business to be more flexible and agile.

He said: “As an artisan producer we are about innovation, it’s in our DNA.

“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.

Patrick Mroczak and his son-in-law Adam Hodgkinson, of Nutree Life

“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.”

Patrick Mroczak, co-founder and CEO of Nutree Life, which invested in automation technologies, said: “With other food producers cutting ranges to focus on volume, customers are looking for alternatives, which has created an opportunity for us."

The business has seen an upsurge in orders and is now on target to almost quadruple its turnover and has doubled its workforce.

He added: "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 unprecedented increase in demand.

Blackpool's Barking Bakery

"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.”

The Made Smarter Adoption Programme in the North West is a collaboration between UK government and industry designed to support the increased use of digital technologies.

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.

Left to right Lisa Irwin (LLoyds), Rob Walters (Lloyds), Kim Ashton (My Fish Co), Gary Apps (My Fish Co), Johnathon Townsend (Lloyds) and SImon Cox (My Fish Co Accountant)

“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.”

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