BX Foods continues valuable connections with its farmer-suppliers

“We know them by name, we know their families, their properties and how things operate. The connection that we have developed and maintained with our farmer-suppliers has a unique significance.”

Richard Thorp, Director at BX Foods

An intimate relationship with its farmers/suppliers is one of the key ingredients that provide Oamaru meat processor BX Foods with an edge that is not easily replicated, says the company’s Director Richard Thorp.

“We have 350 farmers/suppliers and out of that, there is a very strong loyal base that we know well. We know them by name, we know their families, their properties and how things operate.”

“Perhaps because we’re a comparatively smaller operator, we have the ability to form quite a unique relationship with our farmers/suppliers. The connection that we have developed and maintain with our farmer-suppliers has a unique significance.”

Richard says part of that close relationship is forged through regular contact with the farmers throughout the course of a year, be that on-farm visits or attending farmer discussion groups and local events like the iconic A&P shows where farmers gather for a chat while enjoying a touch of rural hospitality.

BX Foods has been operating since 2015 when the existing processing business of Lean Meats Oamaru was purchased. Starting with a team of 120 employees, BX Foods has progressively increased its processing volumes over the last eight years, growing its team to 250 employees, with aspirations to continue the growth trajectory.

Procuring live animals, then processing beef and lamb down to retail-ready products, BX Foods exports them to considerable markets across the globe, including into UK and Europe, North America and China.

“We procure stock as far as Southland, through into Central Otago and into Canterbury. The Oamaru site is geographically perfectly located. In the early part of the season, around October/November, we draw livestock out of Canterbury. As we move into December/January period, we source livestock locally and in Central Otago. As the season progresses, we continue to source from those areas, but South Otago becomes very important where there are good volumes of lamb.”

The company also processes some goat meat and is the only processor of bobby calves in the Waitaki area. In the last 12 months, BX Foods has invested in extensive modernisation and refurbishment of its plant, bringing it up to date to process meat to a very high standard.

“That’s about breaking the carcass down to the customers’ requirements,” explains Richard. “We’ve refitted this factory to be able to handle a significant amount of boneless cuts and detailed cutting. We’ve tried to set our factory up to ensure we can extract every bit of revenue from the recovery of the offal and pelts, to the cuts we take off the carcass we work to order.”

“If we buy the livestock, we have a sale for it. We won’t speculate, build inventory and then find a sale for it. We have a very strong sales team that is focused on getting to the market and making sales prior to that animal being processed. That requires our farmers to give us robust forecasting, during the course of the year, at different parts of the year. That lens enables us to move forward with confidence.”

Richard acknowledges that there can be challenges in attracting Kiwis to work in the plant. Still, he says there are great opportunities for people prepared to start from the factory floor and work their way through to higher-skilled and paying processing roles.

“From there, people can move into our technical team doing quality assessments and auditing systems to ensure we are meeting overseas requirements.”

“A business this size has a number of middle management jobs, including supervision and production management roles. So, there’s a lot on offer for someone who wants to work in our industry and kick off a career.”

Having once commenced his journey in the late ‘80s, and progressively worked his way up the ladder, Richard speaks from experience. He says BX Foods also offers a graduate programme with at least two management trainees working through the programme.

“The last two tertiary qualified trainees started at the shop floor, worked through every position and department over a couple of years and now hold middle management roles. We also regularly attend secondary schools in the region when they have Career Expos, to profile the business and also outline the kinds of career opportunities available.

“There’s also a fantastic group of agricultural leaders in North Otago who assist the Agri-classes of the three high schools and we participate in that by putting a BBQ on, while explaining our business to the rising Ag leaders of our community.”

© Waterford Press Ltd 2023 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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