Feeding the nation

Growth, trust, and recognition – three words that summarise the rapid ascent of Chesterfield Poultry, one of the UKs fastest-growing chicken specialists

To truly comprehend the scale of Chesterfield Poultry’s meteoric rise, it is best to start at the beginning. At the company’s roots, lies a story of family. Chesterfield’s current directors, brothers Nadeem Iqbal and Mohammed Fayaz Ahmed, were introduced to the business by their father and two uncles who owned a grocery business, before moving into poultry in 1999. In the mid-2000s, sales started to grow, increasing by 97 per cent a year from £2.3 million in 2005 to £17.5 million in 2008. Less than ten years later, under the guidance of Managing Director Nadeem, the company reported a turnover of £75.48 million and was ranked 34 in The Sunday Times top 100; it was also mentioned in The Derby Telegraph and University of Derby’s Top 200 in 2017, a league table of businesses which had been major contributors to Derbyshire’s success and promoted its image on the national stage.

Originally based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Chesterfield Poultry is now a group that owns and operates multiple poultry producing and processing firms, including Iqbal Poultry, which is a trading arm selling a wide range of culturally acceptable products. Chesterfield is now based in Thorne, Doncaster, where Iqbal operates from a state-of-the-art processing facility, which, following an upgrade at the end of 2019, can now process 13,200 birds per hour. Speaking to FoodChain magazine recently, Nadeem highlighted how the building and creation of the Thorne facility coincided with changes in the foodservice sector and triggered a change in the market: “Our approach to poultry processing was maturing simultaneously with how foodservice was responding to the newer, younger generations of consumers demanding traceable, assured supplies. The building of Thorne accelerated the changes in foodservice, matching the requirements from customers and in many cases exceeded expectations – it set new standards, which set our business apart and made us different from the competition,” he said.

The plant’s newly developed equipment ensures animal welfare, food safety, production flexibility and processing optimisation. The facility also holds an Assured Food Standards Red Tractor license. All Iqbal’s products are delivered on temperature-controlled transport throughout the UK, to the smaller retailers, wholesalers, caterers, butchers and restaurant chains.

In October 2018, Chesterfield saw another exciting development to its operation with the purchase of Banham Poultry. Based in Attleborough, Norfolk, Banham accounted for seven per cent of the UK poultry market at the time. Banham operates primarily in the fresh retail sector and is the largest employer in the mid-Norfolk region, with employees spanning three generations. The acquisition of the 50-year-old company helped to safeguard the future of the business and saved over 1000 jobs in the process.

“Banham was culturally in many ways a similar business to Chesterfield, in that it was owner driven and they had created an extended family ethos throughout,” commented Nadeem. “Furthermore, while our Thorne plant was designed for foodservice and wholesale, Banham was 100 per cent retail, with its products in a tray pack. With tray packing in its infancy at Thorne, bringing these two styles together unlocked new dimensions in process controls that positively benefitted both companies.

“Releasing this potential, engendering positivity, and introducing lessons learned at Thorne, while utilising Banham’s proud history, has helped us create a new vibrant identity for Banham,” he continued.

Chesterfield also headhunted Blaine van Rensburg who started as Managing Director in January 2020. (Nadeem holds the role of CEO at Banham Poultry). In a relatively short time at the helm, Blaine has overseen restructuring of the management team and considerable improvements in Banham’s Station Road factory that are designed to keep pace with the demands of modern poultry processing. “We have made significant investments of £11m into the Banham Station Road site to enhance capacity, efficiency and quality,” Nadeem noted.

This investment programme includes upgrades and modernisation of the entire processing line from slaughter, evisceration and chilling to cutting, deboning, packing and even effluent treatment and odour management. Plans for value-adding and further processing capabilities are currently being hatched in conjunction with current retail customers that will see exciting additions to the already extensive list of products on offer. “Our programme is designed to bring the current site up to retail requirements and to bridge the period until a new site at Bunn’s Banks site is built,” revealed Nadeem. Replacing Banham’s current site, this new world-class facility will incorporate the latest in poultry processing and packaging technology with an emphasis on sustainability. Detailed design and planning is expected to commence later this year.

Banham began life as a family business, much like Chesterfield, and remains committed to responsible corporate citizenship focusing on engagement with and impact on the local community. Its strong environmental management and waste disposal policies have been implemented to create a better future for generations to come.

Now almost at the halfway point of 2020, Chesterfield continues to perform. On the back of the company’s latest expansion, turnover jumped from £99 million in 2018 to £120 million in 2019. The achievement saw the business named in the Yorkshire Fastest 50 for 2020, a list of the best-performing, fastest-growing Yorkshire companies that have consistently increased turnover across a three-year period. “Our businesses never stop growing, but until Banham we always focused on organic growth,” commented Nadeem. “But for the foreseeable future we will probably focus on internal growth, and this will include areas such as securing additional poultry farmers to give the business more production capacity. We are continually developing our strategic partners, because with every sale they make, they help grow our business too. We are always committed to strategic suppliers, showing loyalty and sharing in our business ambitions and vision, as we want to enable our suppliers to grow with us.”

Nadeem also pointed out that poultry is the ideal commodity for trade – it is affordable, suitable for all cultures, versatile and safe. “We then set out to produce a multitude of sizes and cuts, giving our customers total flexibility,” he added, “so our way of doing things never becomes a barrier to growth.”

Indeed, the poultry meat sector is a vital British industry. Over 50 per cent of all meat consumed in the UK is poultry, of which 88 per cent is chicken. The industry directly employs over 37,000 people and sustains a total of 87,700 jobs, turning over £7.2bn and contributing £5bn Gross Value Add. There are, of course, still challenges. One of the major uncertainties facing the industry is the cost of poultry meat. This is directly affected by feed and feed raw material pricing, supply and demand, consumer pricing and the socio-economic impact of events such as Covid-19.

The pandemic has caused major disruption for businesses across the globe. The poultry industry in particular is being challenged by the sudden closure of the foodservice markets in the face of escalating feed prices, due to poor UK wheat crop forecasts and foreign exchange volatility. This has placed the livelihood of the independent British poultry farmer in real jeopardy. “While retail sales have boomed to £10.8bn during the last four weeks in response, even exceeding festive season levels, we expect sales to normalise as consumers gain confidence in the retailers’ ability to keep the shelves full,” said Nadeem. “We have remained resilient, adaptable and resourceful during this difficult time, ensuring support for our supply chain partners. The huge supply chain imbalance has been difficult to navigate thus far but with the actions that have been taken and our diversified market exposure, through Banham’s retail focus, we will continue to play our important role in feeding the nation.”

British Poultry Council Chief Executive Richard Griffiths recently praised the industry for its critical work in a difficult time. “Everyone in the poultry meat supply chain is working hard and we’re asking the Government to support them whilst they do this vital job,” he implored. “From farmers and vets who look after our birds, through butchers and engineers who keep our factories working, to drivers and distributors who get food to our shelves, it’s essential that food production is prioritised during this difficult time.” This was echoed by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice, in a letter to all food producers thanking them for their critical role in ensuring food security.

The essential nature of the British poultry industry has never been clearer, and Chesterfield is playing an increasingly important role in keeping food on every table. “Food security and safety are the long-standing buzzwords of the food industry, and when we created our Thorne facility, we gave our business a blank canvas upon which we could redefine the process, and these two areas were paramount,” said Nadeem. Hygiene and food safety are two of company’s main concerns and Chesterfield Poultry has put in place several strategies and state-of-the-art technology to greatly reduce any incidents at its Thorne facility. “We engineered out risk and created best practices within the process,” he agreed. “The closed systems meant that traceability and tracking quality were achievable goals, and the level of control we have over the process is delivering exceptional results.”

Going forward, Nadeem and the Chesterfield team will maintain their strong position, as well as their determination to adapt and overcome any problems they are faced with. “There is no way of telling how this pandemic will pan out, so we are keen to continue to diversify our operations both up and down the integrated supply chain, as retail supply is booming and the wholesale sector is contracting,” Nadeem stated. “So Chesterfield is open to opportunities going forward and would like to target other businesses in the poultry industry if they come up for sale, to help us leverage synergies that accelerate our ever-growing competitiveness.”

In conclusion, we asked Nadeem what the secret is to the company’s success. He credited two significant areas: “Our dedicated staff within the business that have grown in terms of skill and competence, and our supply farmers,” he said. As farmers continue to rise – unseen – to the challenges of producing the nation’s food, I think we all agree that these heroes deserve to be recognised for their essential contribution to the health of the UK!