Nursery Meals business embarks on Industry 4.0 Journey


When Katy Elliott took the leap from cottage industry caterer, making frozen home-cooked meals for nurseries from her home, to food manufacturer on an industrial estate in Birkenhead, her aim was to grow the business.

More than a decade later, the company delivers 15,000 meals per week to 40 customers. But the business has struggled to adapt.

Katy estimates that more than 50 man-hours are devoted to manual, out-dated paper-based processes – around 17 per cent of the company’s total payroll.

With growing customer demand, as well as pressure to adhere to increasingly stringent food standards and regulations, the Nursery Kitchen is desperate to embrace industrial digital technologies (IDT).

The challenge

Because the company’s main systems are still paper-based and manual, management has no overall visibility of work in progress, production status or inventory levels.

Consequently, it cannot take on new customers, which has become a barrier to the company’s growth plans and leaves the existing production facility underutilised.

“We calculated the business gives over 52-man hours per week to the process of transferring one set of data from one paper to another, just so we can fulfil an order,” Katy said.

“The majority of my time is spent on paperwork, which means I have no time to devote to new customers and growing the business.

“It's not because of a lack of business, desire or forward-strategy, it's because the systems are so onerous.

“As a company, our inability to invest in new systems has prevented us from growing - taking on new customers. And if we cannot grow then there's a danger that we could stagnate.”

The solution

Through its discussions with Made Smarter, The Nursery Kitchen has identified key IDT solutions which will move the company from manual paper-based processes to a more automated and integrated resource planning, stock control and client ordering system.

A bespoke, cost-effective Enterprise Resource Planning system will allow the business to drastically reduce the administrative burden, minimise errors, increase productivity and comply with food safety standards.

Crucially, it will give a snapshot of live operational data based on weekly orders and give greater visibility of customer buying habits.

The new system will also automate many of the company’s existing factory floor and office administrative tasks leading to significant cost savings, while providing a solution for the tracking and control of allergens in the food itself.

“Within minutes of talking to the team at Made Smarter, we knew we were the perfect fit for this programme,” Katy said.

The future

With the match-funding available through Made Smarter, Katy and the team have identified other projects which could help the company on its digitalisation journey.

One includes the adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies to automate the firm’s current manual system of recording temperature data from its freezers.

Katy forecasts that the proposals will boost growth by 14 per cent over the next three years.

“Our hope is that these significant changes to our systems and processes will improve efficiency allowing us to increase our existing capacity,” Katy said.

“We also aim to take on additional staff to support business development and account management, allowing us to focus on expanding into new ranges of vegan and vegetarian healthy, clean food for all the family.”

The proposals will also see a benefit to the region, with GVA expected to increase to £117,614 by 2022.

But the biggest impact will be on Katy herself.

“For far too long I have been on a hamster wheel processing paperwork instead of doing what I love and the reason I started this in the first place – the cooking,” she said. “I want to get back into the kitchen and start experimenting.”