When Jarek Salek watches herbs trundling down a conveyor and thinks about ways to make the process more efficient, he’s applying a mind that earned him a First-Class Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Jarek, 39, first came to Langmead Farms as a lettuce picker in 2004 when he was on a spring break from his university in Poland. After multiple promotions within the company he is now Operations Manager and positively beams with enthusiasm as he talks about lean manufacturing techniques inspired by the Japanese car industry.
In just three months since he started applying these new principles, Langmead has witnessed a 35% increase in production of the herb-packing lines at Ham Farm near Bosham. On one record day recently, Jarek saw 94,000 packs of cut herbs packaged on just four production lines – a quantity previously only achieved with six lines – and today he is assessing more ways to simplify processes. The aim is maximum benefit for both customers and the business.
Jarek is responsible for two Langmead sites, Ham Farm and the company’s revolutionary 1.3 hectare automated glasshouse at Walton Farm. He starts every day at Walton Farm and from the moment he arrives at 7am his focus is on delivering the best quality product on the market. Langmead produce shines in comparison to competitors’ because of this quality, a result of both the superb sunlight on the south coast and significant investment in artificial light during the winter, and the skills of the Langmead workforce.
As he walks through the UK’s first fully automated glasshouse herb-growing facility, Jarek is reviewing the quality of the basil, thyme, tarragon and sage that will be sold to UK supermarkets at the rate of 2 million pots a year. He meets the site manager and his team of 12 staff to discuss daily volumes and stock quality, then he conducts a health and safety walk-around.
Today his team will pack 5,000 pots, supervise the automated sowing of 20,000 new pots and shift up to 30,000 pots between benches to give the herbs more space to grow. They will also cut 300 kilos of basil, a manual task that requires extraordinary precision and the gentlest touch. Full training in basil cutting takes four weeks, but real expertise takes six months to learn.
Training is a responsibility Jarek takes very seriously. He assiduously develops his workforce so they progress their skills and can move, as he has done, from agency to permanent positions within the company. Staff performance is excellent, he says.
By 8am Jarek is on his way to Ham Farm, where cut herbs are prepared to each customers’ specification and packaged for transit to Sainsbury’s, Lidl and wholesaler Adams. In early spring, autumn and winter the herbs arrive from Spain, Ethiopia, Jordan and Italy, already cut to between 13cm and 18cm and ready to be portioned and packaged on the Langmead conveyors.
The first customer orders arrive at 6am and the Ham Farm team will package around 50,000 packs. Wednesday and Thursday are the busiest days as the supermarkets order their supplies for peak shopping days Friday and Saturday. High efficiency in Langmead systems sees the first order, for Sainsbury’s, complete by 2pm. Orders that come in at 10 or 11am are ready by 5pm. Compared to our competitors this is a very fast and very robust operation, and we lead the industry in customer satisfaction.
A short business meeting at 11am sees Langmead’s senior management team gather at the company’s sleek modern HQ on Ham Farm to review sales volumes, intake quality and KPIs. Lunch is a time to catch up on the progress of a planned superb new canteen; the news is good – it should be serving its first meals in two months.
Jarek’s afternoon is devoted to forward planning on new projects, refining processes and embedding current ideas, reviewing previous projects and brainstorming options for improvement. Lean manufacturing is all about applying techniques pioneered by Toyota to Langmead’s reality, and Jarek’s focus is on minimising waste across all strands of the production process from waiting times to product defects.
In a decade at Langmead Jarek has worked his way from “production operative” to roles including team leader, engineer and site manager for the company’s operations in Scotland. His skills, his desire to improve and his enthusiasm have taken him a long way and his progression stands as proof of the company’s investment in its talent.
Today ends with a supply-chain meeting and Jarek leaves the office at 6pm (ideally it would be 5pm, but sometimes he can’t resist staying on when a new idea is bubbling under or a thorny problem needs solving). Tomorrow is Friday and that means the weekly football game he organises with colleagues – a fantastic way to unwind and great for competitive spirit!