“I love packaging,” says Andrea Jex. “I like buying ingredients, too, but my biggest strength and biggest love is packaging.”
Kettleby Foods purchasing manager Jex, 36, heads up a team of four, comprising a packaging buyer, a new product development (NPD) buyer, a senior buyer, who is also her ingredients buyer, and a non-raw materials buyer, who buys anything that is not food- or packaging-based, such as protective clothing and engineering spares.
Kettleby Foods, part of the family-owned Samworth Brothers food group, is based in a modern, purpose-built 5,500sq m, £15m factory in Melton Mowbray. Since opening in 1999, the plant has grown its product range from just 12 to around 80.
The company specialises in selecting and preparing fresh meat, fish and vegetables for premium ready-meals. It’s even able to experiment in the creation of new dishes, using freshly picked herbs grown in its own garden.
Range of responsibilities
Jex is responsible for most things purchased at Kettleby Foods. “We manufacture ready-meals for Tesco – the British Traditional, Healthy Living, Kids and Finest ranges – and I am responsible for purchasing anything that is used for or goes into that product. That includes the sleeves, lidding film, CPET trays and all the ingredients. We buy more than 80 different sleeves, for example, and more than 200 ingredients,” she says.
“It’s the complexity of packaging that I like so much,” she explains. “If I run out of carrots today, I could go out and buy them elsewhere, but packaging is not that simple. I enjoy the whole process you go through when specifying and purchasing packaging. It’s fascinating and forever changing.”
Not only does Jex get pleasure from her position at Kettleby Foods, but it perfectly fits her lifestyle. She and her partner, Martin, who live just 20 minutes from the factory, now have a two-year-old daughter, Emma. “When I was divisional packaging manager for Hazelwood Foods, I worked for about eight sites, which meant I spent a lot of my time in the car going from site to site. I was also away from home two or three nights a week – it was ridiculous.
“My day-to-day job here is the management of the team and one of my main responsibilities is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI), the purchasing price variant, which is basically measuring how well you’re doing against what you’ve budgeted to spend.
“Right now, we’re moving from ordinary corrugated transit boxes to printed retail-ready packaging solutions for Tesco. This is proving to be a major challenge as we can no longer place a mix of products in one box and everything has to fit snugly in each configuration. So we’re doing a lot of transit trials at the moment.”
Supply and demand
Kettleby Foods has five main packaging suppliers, each on a one- to three-year contract. Tesco uses its own repro house for print and Jex works with the packaging converters to ensure supply fits demand.
“We normally launch around 30 products a year and, with the final graphics files usually only reaching the converter a couple of days before we need the sleeves, it’s all about careful management,” she says.
After five years in the job, Jex still finds it exhilarating. “I am excited by anything new, and there is always a lot happening in ready-meals. Provenance is the biggest challenge at the moment – being able to state where the
ingredients have come from, even down to which field they have been grown in. Organics is another interesting area and, for packaging, the environmental credentials.
“The immediate challenge is in reducing transport costs, energy costs and the costs of the ingredients and packaging to such a level that we can sell ready-meals at a competitive price. I think purchasing is at its hardest point in years. There are a lot of converters going out of business because margins are just being squeezed too far.
“But what I would miss most about this job, should I move on, is the culture of the Samworth Brothers company. Their motto is ‘dignity and respect’ and that is what we get working here. I hope, as the company grows, this never changes.”
2001 Present Purchasing manager, Kettleby Foods, Melton Mowbray
1998-2001 Divisional packaging manager, Hazelwood Sandwich and Pizza Division of Hazelwood Foods
1997-1998 Purchasing manager, Hazelwood DCF, a division of Hazelwood Sandwich and Pizza Division
1996-1997 Packaging buyer, for S&A Foods, Derby
1995 Buyer, Pork Farms, Nottingham
1993-1995 Buyer, Armitage Bros, Nottingham
1991-1993 Assistant buyer, DCE, Leicester