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It’s no secret that the business climate in Kenya is challenging at the moment – the local inflation of input costs has placed vegetable production and processing operations under pressure.  So how does a large and complex business such as Finlays go about combating these challenges sustainably and fairly for the 1000s of employees who work for us? We’ve had to be bold and undertake a comprehensive restructure and I’d like to tell you our story to inspire others of you who may be having similar challenges: 

The initiative saw an aging facility at the airport in Kenya’s capital, which in part was designed and commissioned together with M&S in the 1990’s, relocated to the heart of the business on our farms.  Three new factories were built, one on the slopes of Mount Kenya, one in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley and one in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  Factory reposition removed a number of handling and transport functions which didn’t add any value but carried a level of cost.  Staff have become reconnected with the farm and this manifests itself in more accurate field harvest, waste reduction and consequential cost removal.  Freshness of product is now unmatched through a simpler process and rapid chilling which is good for us and good for our customers.  An exit from the international airport security cordon removes a level of complexity, particularly as the airport ramps up its security controls in response to increased global security threats.  

The new manufacturing plant in Naivasha on Kingfisher Farm is called Acacia, so named because of the Acacia trees which were previously planted to provide a shady resting place for staff on scheduled breaks.

The facility is almost solely constructed from recycled materials from the old Nairobi factories. The steel structure and iron roof is 100% recycled, deconstructed by cranes in February and resurrected in a different shape on the shores of lake Naivasha in March.  Then came the jigsaw;the challenge to salvage the white wall panels of varying dimensions which made up three different factories and consolidate them into one, large,super-efficient shell.  The result is impressive and the working environment it provides is capacious which means that staff have plenty of space in which to operate. Variation in processing temperature is minimal as the air-bank is vast and stable - this saves electricity.  The facility is lit to daylight lux using 98% recycled lighting which gives staff a first rate visual environment and consequently allows product to be processed to high standards.  Even the paving slab path providing access to the facility was relocated from Nairobi and the management offices surrounding the building were heaved onto trucks and repositioned in their new country home.

We did invest in new refrigeration equipment to complement the existing Nairobi gear as we wanted to upgrade our chilling capability.  Product life and quality is heavily reliant on temperature: get the crop cold quickly and keep it cold.

And what about the staff? Finlays is blessed with a terrific workforce and in Naivasha the factory is occupied by staff who relocated from Nairobi. They brought their skill set with them and therefore we didn’t miss a beat in production during the transition process.  As a business we really could not have asked for more from an employee perspective, the team were professional and cooperative throughout, flexible and helpful, an example for us all.

The steps we took were onerous, complex and took time to realise, but the outcome is better than we could have expected in terms of staff engagement, efficiency and product freshness. Business remains challenging, but at Finlay’s we are convinced that for us, free thinking and a sustainable approach is intrinsically linked with our future success.

Finlays Horticulture are a long term supplier to M&S of flowers and vegetables.  We've worked in partnership with Finlays for a long time, they have won a number of Plan A awards and they were the first international silver validated site.

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