Right solutions, right partner

Through diversifying its services, ALS’ UK food testing business is adapting to changing market requirements, offering a one-stop shop solution to customers of every size

To operate in the food safety arena, it is imperative for a company to have a sharpened sense of responsibility ingrained in its DNA. Where ensuring a product’s safety is concerned, there is no room for compromise with the quality of its analytical testing, and ALS knows that all very well. Headquartered in the Australian city of Brisbane, the company first set foot in the UK’s food sector in 2012 when it acquired Eclipse Scientific Group. In the years since, ALS has demonstrated admirable conscientiousness, making sure that it attains the most stringent accreditations and approvals, so that it remains a trusted partner for its clients.

“These standards are essential to what we do and we never cut corners in ensuring that we uphold them, because our reputation is built on that,” insists ALS’ Sales & Marketing Director, Nigel Richards. “We have got seven food testing laboratories strategically located across the UK, each of which is UKAS accredited to ISO 17025. In addition, they have been recognised by bodies such as DEFRA and have been approved by Tesco and Marks & Spencer under the new RSA scheme.”

Historically, ALS’ customer base has been made up predominantly of UK food manufacturers. While these remain the core of the company’s business, it also works with a number of the country’s largest retailers, as well as with several foodservice organisations. “We have always prided ourselves on trying to provide our clients with a ‘one-stop shop’ solution,” Nigel claims. “Even before ALS acquired the business, we were a leader in delivering microbiological and chemical testing services, allergen testing, as well as services that covered nutritional chemistry, vitamins and additives, pesticides and agrochemicals, and contaminants.

“The big change in the last few years is that we have widened our remit to encompass a complete range of food safety solutions. Instead of simply performing individual microbiological or chemical tests, we now offer a broad array of consultancy services to support our clients in their daily tasks. Our company strapline ‘Right Solutions, Right Partner’, highlights this diversity and encapsulates how we like to see ourselves,” he explains.

New lab opened
By the time ALS took over Eclipse, the latter was already growing organically, but the move led to subsequent acquisitions – that of ALcontrol’s UK food and water business and of 2 Sisters Food Group’s BioCity laboratory in Nottingham. These acquisitions provided ALS with access to new site locations which have strengthened the company’s presence in certain regions and facilitated the launch of the new services discussed above.

Shortly before we spoke to Nigel, ALS had opened its latest facility – a state of the art ‘Full5en5e’ sensory lab in Rotherham. The laboratory includes 12 bespoke booths, a kitchen preparation area, and a workshop area, allowing ALS to offer a wide range of sensory testing, cooking validation, and new product development solutions.

“The new lab is an important new departure for us, as it really reinforces our offering and will help us to respond to changing client needs,” Nigel comments. “These are challenging times for everybody in the food industry, with falling consumer confidence in the market and rising costs making it difficult for retailers, manufacturers and service providers alike. This is why we have looked to differentiate and why we feel that additional services like sensory testing and consultancy will be key for the business, going forward.

“We have also started to increase the number of Training Workshops for clients, both at own sites and also on our clients’ premises, as well, to help raise awareness of a variety of food safety issues,” he continues. “From a consultancy point of view, we have a team of BRC-trained assessors who can carry out factory audits, help customers with the interpretation of the results, and provide risk assessment. It is also worth highlighting that we are able to perform root cause analysis and a horizon-scanning service. To help clients access all of these services, we are currently rolling out our new on-line portal – ‘ALSolutions’ – which consists of seven continually developing modules that encompass the many services provided by ALS.”

Over the last three years, ALS has grown its headcount by nearly 200 to its current level of 700 staff. An integral part of this successful expansion has been the quality of staff training which Nigel believes is a prerequisite for ensuring the future prosperity of the company. “We have in-house training academies at our sites in Chatteris – recognised by the Institute of Science and Technology – and Rotherham that are instrumental in developing our people into the leaders of tomorrow,” he maintains. “As a result of our efforts, we have recently been shortlisted by The Society of Food Hygiene & Technology for their ‘Training Company of the Year’ award and we were also named ‘Employer of the Year’ at the Fenland Enterprise Business Awards in October. These accolades fill us with confidence that we are on the right path and we are planning further investment to bolster our training initiatives.”

Looking further down the road, Nigel picks out two of the key advantages he believes ALS possesses that will keep the company in a good market position in the long-term. “Our UK hub in Chatteris allows us to concentrate a number of key services and skills in one location whilst our region ‘spoke’ laboratories provide us with national coverage and the all-important access to our clients at a local level,” he emphasises. “Another differentiator for us is that, being part of a global organisation, we can partner with some of our sister sites across Europe and make the most of their services in supporting our clients in the UK. One particularly good example is the access we have to the molecular 35biology capabilities of our facility in Tondela (Portugal). The next-generation DNA sequencing there is valuable, because it enables our clients to identify what exactly goes into their products, so that they can label them correctly and guarantee their compliance with labelling regulations.

“In conclusion, we are adapting to the challenging economic conditions we operate in, by developing new capabilities that have made our proposition more attractive and relevant to our clients, which provides us with a solid platform to build upon,” he wraps up.