Convenient solutions

Linden Food’s green ethos has aided expansion into the convenient meat production

Since 1999, Linden Foods Ltd has been at the forefront of producing beef and lamb products for clients across Europe. This success has been built upon the sheer range of products, coupled with the company’s operating practices, and devotion to continually producing bespoke solutions by directly working alongside its customers. Linden Foods produces a combination of primal products, which go out to packers and wholesalers in the UK that either sell them directly to independent retailers, or to ready meal manufacturers.The company also has a retail packing facility, whereby products are packed for a number of major retailers, like Marks and Spencer. The business has other retail customers in Ireland and the UK, and it is a large supplier of own label products, as well as branded products. Linden also has its own branded product called Tasti, which is sold primarily in the independent sector, particularly gauged towards convenience stores. The reason for this is because the products are mainly fixed weight fixed price, allowing distinct points of differences versus similar products found in the UK multiples.

Linden Foods was launched in 1999 as a result of a merger of two companies: Granville Meats, and Milltown Meats. Sales manager Colin Freeman outlines the scope of Linden’s business: “Linden operates through its major site in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, although the company has a total of five sites all over Ireland. These are slaughter and packing sites for beef and lamb. From a group perspective, the company is unique as it dual sources its produce from both nations in Ireland. Depending on price, this means customers can purchase products from either Irish or British sources. Linden Foods has its biggest market in the UK, because of its location in Northern Ireland, but the company also trades with Albert Heijn Supermarkets in Holland, which is a substantial supplier of business. The Southern Irish part of the group distributes beef and lamb products all over Europe. This business operates under the name of Slaney Foods, based in County Wexford.”

Expansion is at the heart of Linden’s business ethos, and this has encouraged the development of the company’s factory, as Colin explains: “Linden has made major investment in its own facilities. The Dungannon facility is very unique, having a killing section, a boning hall, and a retail packing area. This allows everything to be prepared and completed on one site. Over the past two years, Linden has made significant investments at all its sites, and in September 2006 the company installed a pace boning system, a state-of-the-art system that bones over 550 tonnes of product a week. Linden has also made significant investment in its retail packing plants, costing £3 million in total over the past few years.

“Linden has just completed the building of a waste energy plant at the back of the Dungannon site, which will eventually make it self-sufficient in bi-product disposal, electricity generation, and heat,” Colin continues. “The plant is now capable of extracting energy from all waste food products, including ex-retail stores, thus screening the supply chain. The company is called Lenergy, and is running trials at the moment before it is put into full time operation. This is a big step for the company, as it is also looking at green packaging in relation to both its customers and suppliers. This is a major project, and Linden is looking at disposable packaging alongside other products. This is the first waste energy plant of its kind in Northern Ireland, and the benefit of it is a reduction in the already high electricity usage within the plant itself. Operating six days a week, and seven days in busy periods, Linden faces huge water, electricity, and heating bills, and like any business it is looking for cost efficiencies. The plant will allow reinvestment of profit savings into areas of expansion.”

Research and development is central to expanding the company’s range of meat products, as Colin comments: “Linden is constantly active in developing new products and it has recently employed a new product development manager. This means the company is now particularly proactive in the retail and food service markets. This is dictated by the requests and needs of the customers of the company, which aids in moving the market forward. Each of the clients that Linden works with has specific goals and the company offers value-added services, and special butchery techniques to this aspect of product development. The way the market is moving, clients are beginning to purchase less raw meat; the focus is now on convenience and products that reflect that ethos.”

Working closely with clients to generate meat product solutions is very important to the company, a point on which Colin elaborates: “A lot of Linden’s efforts are focused on the convenience element in producing quality, added value, tasty meal products for the beef and lamb sectors, and this has been very popular with the company’s customers. This development is at the forefront of Linden’s current business strategy. The company produces bespoke on-site solutions for its clients, who often have specific requirements to be met in the production of ready meals. The site has very high quality standards, which is also an appealing factor. In Northern Ireland, there is a quality assurance scheme, which has stringent rules and regulations and the company also has specific quality requirements set out by it customers. This means the quality and condition of animals coming to the site is always very important. Northern Ireland beef is rated as some of the best quality available in Europe, primarily because cattle are grass-fed, giving a different flavour to the meat. Linden prides itself on quality meats and this is stringently upheld on site.”

The efficiency of Linden’s manufacturing processes ensures the quality of its products, as Colin explains: “What Linden attempts to do is keep one step ahead of the market. The company wants to be the best at what it does by making continual investment in machinery and techniques. In the boning hall, for example, Linden is installing a new part to improve efficiency. Efficiency is a vital part of the company’s operations, and is important in regards to market demands. Food service is a huge part of the company’s market, and being smart and innovative garners reward, which is something Linden is very good at. The company produces high quality products with the materials it has available, for the best prices, whether in wholesale food service, or retail. Linden tries to produce a higher quality, consistent product.

“I think the success that Linden has experienced is down to the people it employees, as it is an open company, from the management down to the factory floor – decisions are made, and the company moves forward,” Colin states. “The business will progress into the area of convenience products, focusing on the fact that this does have to sacrifice quality. The more convenient and time-saving Linden can make its products, the more it will appeal to customers,” he concludes.