Well satisfied small scale producers

January 11, 2011 14:35

During 2010, 28 small scale food producers have received help through the Competence Network's visit scheme. The companies cover a wide range of areas of activity, from inland fisheries such as whitefish and rakfisk via juice, squash and jam production to bakery, vegetable packing, raw food production and butchery, reports www.megafishnet.com with reference to Nofima.

Many of the companies have received help with start up, further development and planning new premises. There has also been help in developing products, improving recipes and menus, new butchery methods for beef, food safety and hygiene measures and help with logistics and distribution.

Differentiated competence needs

In an informal survey of the companies, participants answered that they had benefitted from the visits. There is a great deal of difference in the kind of expertise each company is looking for, but whether it has been about hygiene or food safety, logistics, distribution, developing recipes, pure bakery or butchery expertise, the companies have been very satisfied with the help they have received.

Several companies commented that they have become better at focusing on what is important and what they want to be good at. Also that they have received a greater understanding of the importance of precision, hygiene and the right chill chain.

The small scale companies in food service and catering have been especially happy about getting help with developing new, more suitable menus. Interest in the quality of raw ingredients increases and the menu becomes more special.

Home with better recipes in the luggage

Several also said that the visit has helped them to see the advantages of gaining new expertise. They have therefore become more interested in attending courses. One of the companies, Vinje Slakteri, has just spent two days with master sausage maker and food technician Tom Chr. Johannessen in Nofima's meat hall. Here they have developed new types of game sausages and salamis. This visit was organised together with Telemarksforskning and the Competence Broking scheme.

As well as running Vinje Slakteri, Aslaug Kostveit and partner Knut Erik Jordstøhl also farm deer. In the abattoir, in which they work together with another farmer, the deer and also sheep from the surrounding farms are slaughtered and butchered. They also receive a certain amount of game.

"The butchered meat is sold to individuals, restaurants and shops in the area. We wish to make better use of the meat, so we have started making salamis, sausages and burgers. The burgers are made of elk and we call them the Vinje Burger," says Knut Erik Jordstøhl.

At present both Aslaug and Knut Erik have full time jobs beside the deer farm and abattoir. But the ambition is to reorganise so that they can live off their own business. The aim is to have three full time employees within three years.

"The visit to Nofima has absolutely lived up to expectations During the course of two highly educational days, we have received many tips about production methods and optimising recipes. Tom has helped us enormously. What we have learned during these two days will enable us to get sausage production going and be sure of the best result. It has been especially important to us to go for the optimum flavour," explains Knut Erik.

All good things come in threes

Many of those seeking help are companies that have already been in contact with Nofima on previous occasions. Now they want to expand the business - often with new types of product. A good example of such a company is Eplegården of Hurumlandet. They have about 4,000 apple trees and mainly use the apples to make juice that is sold to restaurants and in their own farm shop. The apple juice production has been and will continue to be Eplegården's core activity. Since they now want to have a bakery to supplement the farm shop, they got in touch once again with Nofima, which helped them with setting up the apple juice production.

"As well as finding out what equipment was needed for setting up a bakery, including what was needed to gain approval from the Food Safety Authority, I got help in deciding what I should concentrate on. The advice from Nofima's master baker and pâtissier Hans Helge Raae Olsen was to limit the product range to three items and work on excelling at these. I have decided to concentrate on cinnamon buns, apple muffins and apple pie," explains owner Sissel Gransæther.

Sissel and Tor Gransæther of Eplegården like to think differently and are always on the lookout for new inspiration. That's why Sissel also took part in the sourdough baking course organised by Nofima in the autumn.

"Even though I don't have any plans to produce sourdough bread at the moment, the course was both inspiring and useful. Our philosophy is 10 per cent renewal every year, instead of 100 per cent every ten years, so we need to keep up our expertise and follow what is happening," says Sissel.

Plums all year round

On Asker Nordre farm too, apple production is an important part of the business. The apples are used to make juice, which is sold both in the farm shop and to restaurants that are interested in local food. Plums are another important source of income for Aske Nordre. The big plums are sold to Bama, but the smaller plums are difficult to sell. Now they are going to make jam from the small plums. The jam will be sold both in the farm shop and to the same restaurants that buy the apple juice.

"The plan is to get started with jam production this winter and our anticipated volume for the first year is 2,000 jars. Through the visit scheme we have received help with planning the new premises for jam production, so that the design of the rooms satisfies the Norwegian Food Safety Authority's requirements. Berit Foss Hille of Nofima also helped with hygiene measures and discussed the many challenges involved in documenting production," explains Knut Braastad.

Use the calculator!

Hans Helge Raae Olsen also always focuses on the financial side when he gives advice on bakery. The importance of profitable production is baked into all guidance and courses that are given under the Competence Network umbrella.

Hans Helge has two particular hobby horses when it comes to sales and finance:

"Firstly, everyone needs to ask themselves the question - why should people buy from us? For small scale producers and farm shops this usually means - why should people make the journey to buy our goods instead of buying from the shop?"

"The answer is that they must make something that is extra good and unique, and to manage that they must limit their range to a few products that they make better than anyone else. Then they can put a high price on their products and production becomes more efficient with regard to the number of raw materials and wastage," he says.

The second thing he asks companies to do is to take out the calculator and figure out how much they have to sell to make production profitable.

"Will it pay to start this production, in terms of both investment in equipment and use of time? In order to achieve acceptable profitability, the companies must make products they can charge a high price for, which means they can't supply any old junk. It must be something unique," concludes Hans Helge.

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