Insights into Excellence: A visit to Princes Foods

6 (2)Achieving best practice is not a quick fix or short-term measure to improve public or employer perception. Achieving excellence and developing practices that are robust and stand the test of time requires commitment and dedication.  Last week we visited the Princes Foods manufacturing site in Belvedere, East London and saw a company that has a constancy of purpose, long range vision and a dedication to achieving excellence in all areas.  They have also achieved a very high level of Lean deployment and more importantly employee engagement.

Princes isn’t unique in that they manufacture their own brands which includes household names such as Napolina alongside supermarket own brand products.  As such, they have had to meet the stringent standards of the major supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Aldi, and have a continual focus on adding value and reducing costs.

Their lean journey, which began in 2012, and was spearheaded by Princes Manufacturing Director and Continuous Improvement (‘CI’) Manager.  The programme has been constant in its pursuit of engagement of hearts and minds and a focus on people. Their CI Manager summed it up nicely for us:

At Princes we seem to constantly return to our “Change Commitment “Curve illustration (see diagram below). What we want is everyone following the “Green Route”, to ownership, not the “Red Route”, to compliance. The trouble is the “Green Route” takes longer and requires patience, letting people experiment, and lots of coaching and support.

Shigehiro Nakamura, my old Lean Sensei, always stressed “people own what they create”. You have to avoid imposing highly defined solutions but rather communicate the key principles and then let the teams develop their own solutions within that framework. This way, in my view,  leads towards ownership and a truly “indestructible” C.I. system.  In essence – Continuous Improvement rather than delayed perfection.

Change curve princes

A great example of how they have applied this was how they encouraged their employees to think differently about their product.  Some of the products they manage are very high value, but not all, Tuite and his team started referring to the product as ‘Liquid Gold’ to instill in operators the need to minimize spills and manage waste. This simple act created a sense of ownership and triggered some great changes in behavior that have reduced costs and improved the work environment.

Visual management is of a very high standard on site, they have excellent lean training tracker boards ensuring all the tools are trained (in-house) and updated regularly.  The cell boards are clear and consistent across the site and the mobile problem-solving board can be taken to wherever a challenge or production issue arises.  Strategy deployment is clear and they utilize the Hoshin (X-Type) Matrix to ensure it is drilled down to all operating levels. This is supported through structured daily, weekly and monthly meetings – the heart of which is the daily Gemba walk led by the site operational team.

The site demonstrates a thorough application of all of the common lean principles (Five S, Visual Management, Kanban, Autonomous Maintenance and Poke Yoke) what struck me was how thorough it was and how well these work practices and only those they needed had been applied.  They acknowledged they had tried many others but are now just using what adds value to them as an organisation.  Note the use of ‘work practices’ and not tools – the Princes Manufacturing System deliberately avoids the word ‘tools’ as they believe it conjures to mind the things you keep in the shed and fetch out and use when needed then put them away again – which I think is a totally valid point and I will be adjusting my personal dictionary forthwith!

Recently, there has been a particular focus on asset management and machine reliability.  Much of the general maintenance is now undertaken by line operators freeing the engineering team to focus on supporting the operators and adhering to their planned and scheduled maintenance activities.

Every employee we spoke too talked of pride in the company and pride in the product they were manufacturing.  This is one of the goals of any employee engagement strategy, to have employees who are proud of the company they work for and the products they are manufacturing.  This is I believe a result of their genuine desire to engage and nurture their employees.  There is a structured training programme and commitment to 100 hours of training per person per year. They have also established the Princes Learning Academy based at their Bradford site which focuses on training in lean tools and techniques.  Each 12 person cohort through the academy are challenged to a deliver a minimum £10,000 cost saving project within 100 days. The results speak for themselves – last year various projects led by just the four Belvedere cohorts saved the site over £400k.  They also employ some of the usual soft tools such as an attendance raffle, a monthly all staff briefing and they celebrate birthdays with a bit of fun.

The honesty, humility openness and desire to share with others was so refreshing. The site is one of the best I have visited in the UK for some time for all of the reasons I have highlighted, and their willingness to share with other organisations what has worked and why was a great reminder of why the programme adds value to those that participate.

Our thanks go to the Management Team and Continuous Improvement Team at Princes Foods for their support of this visit.

If you would like to see first hand how Princes Foods have approached their continuous improvement and Lean journey and see how well the engage with their teams the next visit is to their Eden Valley site in Cumbria on 6 June 2017.  Please do contact me for more information.


Ailsa Carson

Programme Director

Onsite Insights


Supporting Best Practice