Lean and agile

According to Mike Cosby, finance director at Burts Potato Chips, the UK snack market has reached a level of maturity that means manufacturers must work harder than ever to defend their profit margins, grow the business and compete on the global stage. Leading brands see diversification into new product ranges as an important growth driver – something they are achieving, in part, by making their supply chain processes leaner and more transparent.

This was certainly the case for Devon, UK-based Burts, which recently announced plans to move into the flavoured popcorn market following its acquisition of Savoury & Sweet, a manufacturer in Leicester. As part of a major overhaul, which will see Burts more than double output at the Leicester plant, every process is being scrutinised, enabling teams to see exactly what is happening across the entire business. Moving away from a time-consuming system of Excel documents, the team will use Access Group’s supply chain management software to view live production data, which, in turn, informs dynamic decision-making and optimises resources.

Rather than piloting multiple spreadsheets – and risk making errors – the workforce can tap into the most up-to-date information immediately and plan a host of operational tasks. Ultimately, senior managers see this technology as crucial to reducing wastage, saving time, remaining competitive and, of course, protecting profits.

ERP platform

One of the main reasons Burts is so committed to transforming operations at its Leicester site is down to the success it has seen at its Devon headquarters. Back in 2012, processes at the facility were similar to those currently in place in Leicester, with little visibility of shop floor activity.

The business was, at the time, using accounting software to manage some of its finance and supply chain functions, but it was proving extremely limited. In particular, the package was unable to offer the analysis and management reporting that Burts needed, so production managers relied on a growing number of spreadsheets that did not ‘talk to each other’.

As the company grew, it became clear that it needed to scrutinise and control three key areas: finance, production processing and stock control. It was at this point that we began a partnership with Burts, working closely with the company as it rolled out Access SupplyChain, an ERP platform designed to give managers a clear view of every aspect of operations, including production, scheduling, accounting and sales.

Leaving behind the manual functions holding it back, Burts used the software to introduce a barcoding system capable of streamlining the process of goods in and out, and making the necessary stock adjustments.

Managers were acutely aware that the lack of adequate barcoding previously in place meant that stocktaking tasks were often duplicated, making the business less efficient and unprepared for the next stage in its expansion. Now, instead of carrying out a monthly stock take, they have a continuous inventory that is reconciled in real time, with 99 per cent accuracy. With a better handle on stock, production managers are able to align purchasing and production schedules, ensuring they have precisely what is needed for the next batch run and therefore reducing wastage. For Burts, this was not only a financial benefit, but also an environmental one.

Barcoding is just one aspect of this new system, which has paved the way for vastly improved information sharing. Whereas it once relied on paper-based reporting, which took an additional day every month, Burts is able to generate production reports to gain immediate and in depth performance data. In effect, it can rapidly compare purchase price versus production costs, carry out detailed sales analysis or see exactly what is in its warehouse.

Strive to drive efficiencies

Food and drink manufacturers have always strived to drive efficiencies within production and supply chain management, with integrated digital systems already giving many a competitive advantage. With pressure to keep retail prices low, and new players continually entering the market, Cosby and his Burts team know that success lies in growing the business in a sustainable way. As they scale up operations, they understand the importance of using readily available data to make maximum use of resources.

Simply put, no food or drink manufacturer can afford the hidden costs that come from time-consuming manual processes and poor information sharing; instead they need to develop lean and agile production models capable of responding to changing customer demand. More than ever before, supply chain software has become the tool that underpins manufacturing operations, giving production managers the freedom to concentrate on key business activity rather than administration.


Lucy Pamment is head of product development at Access Group.

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