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Cream of the crop
25/12/2006 | Channel:
Frozen, Packaging & Logistics
Christian Salvesen Foods is the UK's leading processor of frozen green vegetables
Christian Salvesen Foods, a division of Christian Salvesen Plc, is a market-leading supplier of frozen green vegetables. The company offers an end-to-end service, from contracting with growers, and overseeing ,vegetable growth, through to the freezing, processing and packaging of the vegetables. As a leader in its field, the company is an expert in agricultural processes, and places a great deal of emphasis on healthy eating. Through continuous product development the company aims to provide high-quality, innovative frozen vegetable products.
"Our particular business, Christian Salvesen Foods, is a division of Christian Salvesen Plc," explains Colin Miles, managing director at Christian Salvesen Foods. "Together with our head office in Bourne, Lincolnshire, we have five processing factories and two packing facilities, and currently have a turnover of around £65 million. The company is primarily involved with the production, packing, and selling of frozen green vegetables. Together with this, we have a sub-section of our business unit that involves the provision of third party contract services, which processes, packs and stores vegetables for other companies.
"We offer frozen green vegetables which encompasses a wide range of products, and we effectively operate an end-to-end business," Colin continues. "We contract with various vegetable growers as we do not own any land ourselves, we take the crop, process it, freeze it, and then store it in a cold storage operation. Finally we pack the product in the end retail pack and distribute it to the end customer, so other than physically growing the crop, we ,complete the whole process."
As the UK's market leader, the company is an expert in its field, particularly in
supporting agricultural growth. The business actively supports its growers and other suppliers by offering realistic prices ,for produce, and enjoys excellent relationships with local farmers by working towards encouraging the adoption of sustainable practices in farming. Together with this, Christian Salvesen Foods actively supports growers that invest in countryside management, such as the principles adopted by Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF).
"One of our key differentiators in the market is that we have a very strong focus on agriculture within our operations," Colin comments. "Whilst we do not grow any of the produce we have very strong, direct control over what is grown and how it is grown, to ensure it is equal to the standard that both us, and our customers expect. We specify exactly what we want grown, and work with the growers throughout the entire growing cycle. Together with this, we are involved in the technical control of what chemicals and pesticides are used in the process.
"We believe that this is something that our retailers appreciate a great deal," Colin continues. "They can actually have direct ,visibility through our business to a grower, meaning they will know exactly what product we are growing for them. This serves to give them a great deal of confidence, as they can be assured of high standards. We believe it is vital that the customer can have traceability and visibility throughout
the growing process."
Christian Salvesen Foods supplies an extensive range of customers with the highest quality frozen green vegetables: "The majority of our business is frozen vegetables process and sales," says Colin. "In the vegetable sales business our key customers are the major retailers such as Tesco and Waitrose. Around 80 per cent of our total sales go to the retail own labels. We also sell a lot of our products into the Ross brand, the fifth largest frozen food ,brand in the UK, and we service other sectors
such as the food service catering market. Alongside this, we also sell in small
volumes to the manufacturing and bulk sales sectors. Occasionally there is a ,volume
fluctuation in the crop, meaning we have some surplus that is sold on to other
As one of the leaders in its particular ,field, Christian Salvesen Food places much , emphasis on continuous development: "In a bid to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the market, we work very hard on new product development," says Colin. "Despite the fact that the frozen vegetable market offers a limited scope for innovation, we pride ourselves on being extremely proactive in new product developments. A good example of this is that were the first company to identify the benefits of microwaveable, steam packaging, and the potential that it had in the modern market place.
"Together with this, developments in the market have meant that it has become more feasible to develop mixes that have more exotic vegetables in, in a smaller portion size," Colin continues. "These new mixes include vegetables such as mange tout, sugar snap peas, and asparagus tips. Alongside this, we continually try to present new products with different sauces and ,flavourings on the base vegetable, and look at new, innovative methods of packaging for these. Together with product developments, much of our recent ,investment has been based around cost reduction, particularly in terms of energy. We are investing in the utility costs, such as electricity and water, at our production ,facilities too ensure that we remain competitive in the market." , Colin explains that recent developments in the market have triggered a significant ,focus on portion size, in terms of packaging: "The most recent developments that we have made, in production terms, have been about the capability to sachet, portion sized vegetables, and I believe that portion amounts will become increasingly important. There is constant change in the ,market in the manner in which portion sizes are presented in easy to prepare packs. For example, together with standard, large packs of frozen peas, we sell multi-packs, that effectively give a number of smaller portions."
As one of the UK's leading producers of frozen green vegetables, Christian Salvesen Foods is concerned with the current trends for healthy eating. As part of a national campaign to promote healthy eating the ,Government has granted the company the licence to use the official '5 A Day' logo on its fruit and vegetable packaging. "We certainly believe that frozen is fresher," says Colin. "If you look at the time of when vegetables get frozen after harvesting, it is a matter of hours after the picking ,process, meaning that we capture that freshness in the vegetable. However, a freshly picked vegetable that is not frozen will continuously deteriorate as time
passes. Frozen vegetables are therefore very healthy, and packed with all of the nutrients needed.
"As an industry we have progressively decreased the time it takes us to take the crop from the field to frozen in recent years, and it is something that we will continue to work on," Colin comments. "It is all about production planning and logistics. For
example, if you take peas, you could send a 20-ton truck into the field, start to vine, fill the truck and wait three hours for it to be full enough to take away the peas for freezing. If you really want to get the freshness however, it is vital to use smaller transports, and to bring more frequent loads to the factory to freeze the product much quicker."
Colin explains that there have been many changes in the frozen vegetable industry recently: "The retailers have consolidated, or are continuing to consolidate, but the supply industry hasn't. Consequently, the problem that the industry is facing is that there is a slight divide between supply capacity and demand, which effectively, means that competitive pressures are becomingly increasingly intense with everyone chasing the same business.
"Because of this we have been forced to find what can distinguish our company from the competition, and establish why a customer should want to use Christian Salvesen Foods," says Colin. "What sets us apart is our attention to agronomy, quality, high standards, reliability and scale, and the fact that we operate an endto- end process with complete control. Together with this, we benefit from being part of a corporate organisation. The majority of the market comprises of small to medium players, and we have a significant advantage due to our wider group relationship with some of the major retailers in the UK."
Despite the fresh market challenges, Colin is confident that Christian Salvese Foods can retain its market leading position: "I believe that we will continue to offer high-quality frozen vegetable products to the retail own label sector of the market. Together with this, the added advantage of our complete end-to-end control of the process assures customers that they have someone with the skill to manage the entire vegetable process for them."