Super snacks

Considerable investment in its production sites has been crucial for Burts Chips’ fantastic performance in the crisp and popcorn market, with the UK’s fastest growing producer now looking to increase its workforce to address unprecedented demand

The better part of the past 12 months for Burts Chips has been dedicated to the integration of Leicester-based popcorn producer Savoury & Sweet into the crisp-making business. Indeed, when we last got in touch with David Nairn – Chairman & Managing Director of Burts Chips – just under a year ago, the company had recently acquired Savoury & Sweet. Today, David is keen to reveal that the integration of the two organisations has been executed to perfection, as Burts Chips continues to pursue its ambitious, yet perfectly realistic, goal of hitting the £100 million turnover mark by 2022 with extra vigour.

“All the production and planning management systems have been synchronised across our facilities in Devon and Leicester. Towards the end of 2018 and in the early months of this year, we completed a sizable investment in the Leicester site, which was previously owned by Savoury & Sweet, that enabled us to double its capacity. The new machinery installed includes new hand-cooked potato chip lines and a compression popping line, and we believe that the increased capacity will help us meet the evident growth in customer demand, whilst moving us closer to achieving our £100 million turnover goal,” David comments.

At approximately the same time as the Leicester expansion, Burts Chips was also busy growing the capacity of its main crisp production site in Plymouth. The £3 million investment has made it possible for the business to fry in excess of 960 tonnes of potatoes a week to produce 220 tonnes of premium end product, but as even this rate, impressive in itself, does not seem to be enough to satisfy the massive spike in demand, Burts Chips is planning to harness the capabilities provided by the Midlands facility.

“Since filling the capacity in Plymouth, we have successfully won new business, thus taking a greater share of the market,” David points out proudly. “Due to this expansion of our customer base and our focus on becoming a leader in the premium end of the popcorn market, we are planning to bring in a total of 65 new employees to our Leicester facility by the end of June to help us cope with recent growth with full production going live in August. We are looking for people to fill in a wide range of roles – from line leaders, fryers, and machine operators all the way through to production operatives, quality assurance technicians, and warehouse staff. It is the exception rather than the rule across the industry that we are creating new jobs, but our growing customer base and the outstanding relationships we have with our clients have propelled us to increase our workforce, too,” he shares the company’s plans to enlarge its headcount.

Better for you
It has been mentioned in passing earlier that Burts Chips has actively sought (and found) success in the popcorn production field, following a strategy to somewhat break away from its traditional specialism of making hand-cooked crisps. “By developing such a capability, we have been able to leverage the relationships we have with some of our major clients,” David remarks. “Our reputation of a leading potato chips brand is intact, but it seems to me that our customers have now noticed that we are placing very strong emphasis on providing a quality popcorn offering. In fact, I expect the popcorn business to double in sales in the next 12 months. What is more, we are slowly but surely trying to make the most of our newly-acquired compression popping capability, which will also be critical in meeting our medium-term objectives, going forward.”

A few years ago, Burts Chips launched its ‘Better For You’ range – a selection of light, healthy, and crunchy snacks, highlighting the company’s commitment to innovation and uncompromising flavour. Offering varieties such as Sweet Pepper & Chorizo and West Country Cream Cheese, the items on this particular range are growing exponentially. “As part of this range, we also have our Lentil Waves, which comes in three different flavours – Lightly Salted, Sour Cream & Chives, and Thai Sweet Chilli, and that is also performing very well,” David clarifies.

Growth plans
“Our R&D department is constantly being kept busy and we are currently working on some 160 projects. Of course, we are not talking just about new products, but rather the exploration of new flavours, which can soon find their place on our ranges. We clearly intend on releasing a number of new items into the market by the end of the year,” he continues.

For David, the tendency of premiumisation of snacks will be dominating the market landscape in the coming years and it is to his immense satisfaction that Burts Chips is more than well-prepared to operate successfully in such conditions. “Our aspiration to offer premium items clearly manifests itself through the ‘Better For You’ range and its strong performance guarantees that we are on the right path. In my view, the consumer is getting better value for their money and this is something they recognise and respect.”

Prior to the acquisition of Savoury & Sweet and the ensuing infrastructure development covering both the latter’s Leicester site and Burts Chips’ Plymouth facility, the crisp producing business was turning over £29 million. In 2018, this figure grew to £44 million, while for this year, David is projecting a turnover of £60 million. He concludes: “The additional foothold we now have in Leicester makes me confident that we will be able to hit our 2022 target. Judging by the fact that our turnover in 2019 promises to be higher than what we were originally predicting, we are well on track to reach £100 million in three years’ time. We have the space needed to do that, it is just a matter of identifying the technologies that we want to develop and offer to our existing customers, and the best way in which we can present them. A solid client base and hard-working staff are the necessary prerequisites for the company’s future growth and we are happy that we have both in place as we aim to take Burts Chips to the next stage of its development as a business.”