Banham Poultry – Birds of a Feather

Attleborough has been home to Banham Poultry since the early 1980s, and the company has been active in Norfolk for over 50 years.

The company has become a well-known industry name, and its strong identity has persisted even as the company changed hands in 2018. Around the country, major retailers and wholesalers are supplied by Banham Poultry. Between 700,000 and 900,000 chickens are processed by the company a week, but it has the capacity to process up to 1.2 million. We learn how a 50-year-old poultry company is driving innovation in the field.

“We’re the largest employer in mid-Norfolk, and we own the majority of our farming assets including rearing, breeding, hatching and broiler farms,” explains Blaine Van Rensburg, Banham Poultry’s Managing Director.

A big part of what makes Banham Poultry successful is that it occupies a perfect middle ground in terms of size, as a large industry player that is still small enough to meet customer requirements quickly where a larger corporation might be slower to react.

“We’re making huge strides in efficiency and investment in our facilities,” Van Rensburg points out.

A Challenging Year

In the poultry business the challenges can vary from year to year, but like most industries, this year the biggest challenge has been the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing up costs and interfering with the normal running of the business.

“We’ve had to change shift patterns, minimise staff on-site, in some instances reduce our volumes to allow for social distancing and so on,” says Van Rensburg. “We had a Covid outbreak in August of last year which was hugely painful for the business, making our lives extremely difficult and we’ve done things very differently since then. Costs have gone up. It’s a difficult place to be in, but it is a temporary one.”

Beyond Covid itself, one of the biggest challenges Banham Poultry has faced is chicken feed, which ironically has risen dramatically in price.

“We’re subject to the vagaries of commodities in the market,” admits Van Rensburg. “If there’s a poor wheat harvest, we take the brunt of the feed pricing and we can’t pass that on to retailers in full so we absorb a portion of the price increase.”

A Family Company

One part of the business that does not cost chicken feed is Banham Poultry’s staff. Since its change in ownership, the company has gone through a big cultural change that has involved a great deal of investment in its plant and facilities. This means that despite Banham Poultry’s 50-year legacy, in many ways it is still quite a young company. Indeed, the new technology and facilities the company boasts are potentially a valuable learning experience.

“We upgraded all the technology. From a human resource perspective, a lot of engineering has gone into the business and people can come and do apprenticeships to cut their teeth on it,” Van Rensburg says. “We’ve agricultural facilities that are world-class so if you’re interested in veterinary science, animal husbandry or nutrition, there’s a lot of scope to learn in a business like ours. We are setting up an apprenticeship programme in our plant, we have NVQ qualifications going across our farms. A lot is happening at that level.”

While the company is changing, one element that has been preserved is Banham Poultry’s culture as a family business, even as ownership of the company has passed to Chesterfield Poultry.

“We’re a family-owned business, and that family perspective has grown in poultry processing and farming for the last 50 years. The majority shareholder is Chesterfield Poultry, based up in Doncaster, and they’re a business that’s grown from a small processing plant in Bradford to the one of the most modern poultry processing facilities in the country,” Van Rensburg says. “We’re very agile and very quick to make decisions. There is not a massive amount of bureaucracy when we need to make a call, decision or investment. We have a flat management structure, with no more than four levels between board and factory floor.”

Pioneering in Poultry

While Banham Poultry has succeeded in preserving the good about itself, it is no stranger to seeking out new and improved ways of doing things.

“We’ve got a lot of pioneering work in our farming. We have trialled a new vaccine in a step forward in being completely anti biotic free,” Van Rensburg tells us. “These vaccines will help, and they take the risk of antibiotic immunity and transmission through consumption completely off the table.”

Banham Poultry is able to arrive at these solutions because it is always seeking out new ways to improve and build upon its current offering.

“For each member of the team innovation and continuous improvement is a KPI. We keep a close eye on it. We work through strategies on what can be done effectively to offset the challenges we face,” says Van Rensburg. “For instance, a lot is being made of better welfare for the chickens. Activists are raising awareness around factory farming, and we are actively working to provide a better welfare offering. We have a number of trials on the go to get to a point where we can offer an economically acceptable product with better welfare. So, we’re finding solutions people are prepared to pay for but that aren’t exorbitantly priced.”

While Banham Poultry is constantly seeking new ideas from within the company, it is also making use of valuable partnerships. Asset management company 53North has provided many systems, strategies and technologies to support Banham Poultry’s journey.

“They assist us in ensuring our systems and equipment run optimally. They’re also developing a computerised maintenance management programme,” says Van Rensburg. “If any part breaks down it holds up all the others, so 53North are doing condition-based monitoring, thermographic imaging, electrical panels.”

Their tools give Banham Poultry valuable peace of mind during uncertain times.

“Reliability is everything in the poultry process because you’re working on such tight timelines,” says Van Rensburg. “We’ve seen our plant repairs improve from 85% – 95% since implementing our asset repair strategies.”

Looking forward, Van Rensburg believes Banham Poultry will be able to start innovating in new ways.

“We obviously have aspirations and look to grow our footprint, but from my perspective, it’s not just about more chickens but doing more with chickens,” Van Rensburg says. “We’re diversifying our portfolio to offer more to customers. We want to offer different types of birds, better welfare, through to different products through our factory whether cooked or raw or ready to eat.”

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