Sweet & sutainable

September 01, 2014 by Kirsty Adams
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Earlier this year, Barfoots of Botley won the SHD Logistics Award for Environment/Sustainability. SHD’s Kirsty Adams visits its site in Bognor Regis, to learn more about their materials handling operation powered by crop waste, as part of a sustainable supply chain.

I’ve never seen an Anaerobic Digester before. Most logistics professionals won’t have. There aren’t many in operation in the UK at present, but there has been one at Barfoots of Botley since 2010, turning sweetcorn husks into green energy and powering its Sefter Farm and Leythorne sites.

The plant produces three times the energy the site requires, and Barfoots export the rest to the national grid. It powers multiple production lines, service vehicles and fork lift trucks. The company’s UK pack-house and farming operations are now carbon-negative as a result of the plant – boasting carbon reduction at its best.

Barfoots is a company which acts quickly, ahead of trends. It was ahead of the financial crisis, that it recognised a shift by its retail customers, which led to the implementation of a leaner business model. This enabled them to be more competitive, and involved the movement of certain goods through sea, not air. According to managing director Julian Marks: “No-one else is doing this as effectively.”

Barfoots sweetcorn supply chain starts with sustainable sources, and brings sustainable growth to the company. Once picked the vegetable is cooled in a hydro cooler at Barfoots Senegal, before being shipped to the UK (five to seven days) and transported to Barfoots’ Sefter site. Barfoots owns 50,000 of trays, used to transport goods.

“We have a diverse supply chain; we can’t afford to lose trays between the supplier and packer. It gives us control and allows us to be flexible,” says logistics manager David Cooper. David is continually assessing the systems in place to ensure a finely-tuned chain. From buying its own storage trays – to buying a box-making machine from the Isle of Wight and sending it all the way to West Africa – materials are handled in a way that is sustainable and offers traceability.

“The bar-codes on raw material pallets can tell us the exact field the sweetcorn was harvested. It retains traceability on the product at all times, and offers live data capture through packing and despatch to the customer,” David tells us.

Barfoots has heavily invested in environmental improvements by significantly reducing plastic punnets for the sweetcorn cobs. In addition they have invested in air de-husking technology which has demonstrated a significant improvement in quality along with upgrades to their current UV system. With automated flexi picking (pick and place) robots and case packing technology, Barfoots offer customers extended shelf life, and achieve a 50% reduction in labour.

Barfoots supply chain suits them, because they’ve built most of it. They change it if they need to, adapting to the needs of its retail customers, reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit of its origins. “The key is to offer our customers better quality extended shelf-life, less handling and labour reduction,” says David, who submitted the company’s winning entry to the SHD Logistics Awards early this year.

Barfoots sweetcorn story is one of success. No-one could have envisaged going from three to forty containers per week. Huge growth is expected across their product range and the business’ supply chain will adapt accordingly. See story (top right).
In the spirit of its success, Barfoots has filled all available space at the office with various trophies – we suspect there are more to come.

Sweet potatoes

Barfoots is experiencing increased sales of sweet potatoes, and with its Sweet Potato Development Project, is set to meet growing demand in the UK . The project in Senegal, partially funded by the Department for International Development, will harvest a crop every week of the year.  The scale of their Senegal farming operation is phenomenal. The land includes thirty hectare irrigation pivots which are fed with water directly from the Senegal River.

“Senegal offers the ideal climate all year-round,” says managing director Julian Marks.  “This is land that had never been farmed and has excellent water supplies. Senegal now produces 12% of Barfoots’ total imports, and this is expected to grow.”

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