Hyde-based Firefly Barbecue boosted productivity by 650% through kitchen improvements and increased sales following support from GC Business Growth Hub and certification to a leading food safety standard.
Started in 2015 by barbecue enthusiast Noel Bateman in his home kitchen, Firefly Barbecue produces unique handcrafted sauces and spice mixes. The company has won multiple Great Taste Awards and even became the first non-American entrant to win ‘best barbecue sauce on the planet’ at the World Series of Barbecue in the US in 2019.
“We first started making our own rubs and sauces at home and initially sold them at local markets,” Noel explains. “We ended up converting our garage into a larger kitchen, then bought a container, and by 2019 we reached the point where we could move into our own dedicated unit.”
Noel first approached the Business Growth Hub for manufacturing support when planning his move into the dedicated facility. With a rapid rise in sales expected, the new kitchen needed to be as productive as possible, so Noel was paired with Manufacturing Advisor Andy Hinton to provide guidance on layout, production scheduling and visual management.
Consideration was given to the design of racking and use of space to accommodate differing boxes and pallets while ensuring the most used ingredients were easiest to access. Racking and storage locations were also labelled to indicate minimum and maximum stock levels to aid stock management, and equipment and work-in-process locations were repositioned to improve process flow and maximise throughput.
Implementing these improvements resulted in a quadrupling of capacity, allowing Firefly Barbecue to successfully take on more business and find the time to develop new recipes.
“Andy’s advice helped us a lot with our production,” Noel says. “We became a lot less stressed and were able to make products on time without feeling like we were constantly running around in circles!”
Noel Bateman (right) with American barbecue legend
Tootsie Tomanetz (left)
With an efficient and productive facility in place, the next stage in Firefly Barbecue’s development was to achieve certification to the SALSA Food Safety standard. This would enable the business to become a co-manufacturer for other brands, as well as selling their own branded products in supermarkets, opening the door to a whole set of new opportunities.
Firefly Barbecue obtained grant funding from the Greater Manchester Manufacturing Growth Fund to help bring in the consultancy support needed to develop and implement the systems required to meet the standard, and successfully achieved certification in 2020.
As Noel explains: “Meeting SALSA standards has given us much more legitimacy in the market. Being a contract manufacturer for others has also enabled us to develop new foodstuffs and supply a wider range of products.”
After becoming SALSA registered, Firefly Barbecue’s plan was to begin selling products into larger shops and supermarkets. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made things extremely difficult, with social distancing and the family bubble limiting the amount the company could produce.
One of the time-consuming tasks that was holding production back during lockdown was the labelling of jars and bottles by hand. With the Growth Hub’s support, Noel secured a Small Business Recovery Grant to purchase an automatic labelling machine, which helped to increase production capability whilst still maintaining the social bubble at work. “The labelling machine was such a godsend,” Noel recalls.
Once restrictions eased, Firefly Barbecue returned to its upward trajectory. In fact, turnover has increased by 650 per cent since the business first approached the Growth Hub for support.
As a result, the company has outgrown its existing site and is now moving into new premises that will triple available floorspace.
“Demand is so high that we need to increase capacity again so we’re taking on a larger space and I’m also looking to bring someone else on board in the kitchen,” Noel says.
“Andy’s support over the last few years has been invaluable. When you’re busy it’s difficult to find the time to do research and planning, so having someone knowledgeable to call upon for advice and direction is extremely helpful.”