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25 Years of Food & Drink: What Next For Lean…

Andy Marsh, MD of Turner and Townsend Suiko, celebrates 25 years of operational excellence and continuous improvement in food manufacturing, with an eye on the current opportunity…

Food and beverage is where it all began two decades ago for Suiko (now Turner and Townsend Suiko, following recent acquisition) and whilst we work with a breadth of manufacturing and service industry clients from construction and infrastructure, through to facilities management and retail, the world of food manufacture continues to punctuate our client base.

Delivering operational and business excellence programmes to blue-chip brands and household names such as ABF, Nestle and Pizza Hut, our raison d’être has always been to leave behind a legacy which goes well beyond traditional quick-fix solutions and instead looks to embed a sustainable ethos and new way of working.

The food sector, now the single largest UK manufacturing industry, has worked hard to develop and embrace a lean mindset over the last 25 years, but in our view there is still a long way to go.

The  industry itself has experienced much change and volatility during this time. A plethora of challenges still abound from availability, freshness, rising raw material costs, trace-ability, health and safety, shorter product life-cycles and pricing, to the growth of own brand labels, to mention a few. Bowing to price war pressure and in a bid to reduce overheads, many food organisations had the foresight to employ lean tactics when the recession hit and during the recovery to help them get back on track, but often with a strong focus on short term cost avoidance.

When lean is solely confined to tactical shop floor activity, it has its limits. Instead we urge our clients to think end-to-end.   We believe there are far more measurable gains and opportunities, both culturally and economically, when an organisation takes the bold steps to fully immerse from the top down to the front line. The vision for change has to start with rigorous leadership that is cascaded down to every hierarchy of the business.

In the same uniform way, the vision for change has to be seen, heard and understood by all. Often companies will engage in a program of lean tools and techniques, but with short-sighted outcomes. We can not pay enough importance to the need for effective end-to-end visual management, coupled with process driven targets, KPIs and robust measures to ensure the appetite for change is embedded and becomes the blueprint for future working throughout the organisation.

Typically from our engagements we see significant improvements in service, quality and cost, not to mention the considerable impact and shift in culture.

Supply Chain Transparency

Some organisations can become too internally focused when it comes to lean and fail to see the benefits of extending the vision beyond the factory walls. To this end, we encourage our clients to start with the customer and work back.

The first principle of lean is to create customer value, in order to create a real and compelling competitive advantage. Organisations that understand and interpret the voice of the customer, through end-to-end thinking are able to offer a clearer proposition, along with greater transparency of the supply chain. In turn this generates far superior business benefits in terms of cost, cash and profit in the long run.

From growers, manufacturers to retailers, the deployment of end-to-end, lean business excellence has the power to refocus the entire supply chain to better align production and distribution activities more closely with demand.

Movers and Shakers

In truth, we are a long way off this becoming industry protocol, but on a smaller scale, it is encouraging to see a more mature approach to lean successfully developing with some higher end food retailers. Committed to striving for quality, the more proactive retailers are increasingly engaging in lean supply chain partnerships to deliver the uncompromising service and produce demanded by the more discerning customer.

In dramatic comparison at the lower end of the market, stripping out the non value-added, right back to the bare basics is lean in its truest sense, with the proliferation of the budget supermarket. The bargain, own brand retailers have listened to the voice of the customer and their response is admirable, the success speaks for itself.

Ultimately, there is no off-the-shelf approach to lean. As the quest for increased customer intimacy and transparency continues to impact up and down the supply chain, we see lean at its most effective when it is designed to embrace and mirror the value proposition of the individual organisation. If the business model and proposition is ultra responsive, green and organic or no-frills, cut price and highly efficient, the deployment of lean has to be entirely in sync and fit for purpose.



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