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Freebooter investing in quality and flexibility.

Freebooter Investing in Quality and Flexibility


Freebooter specialises in high volume, value added coated fish products and supplies private label products to many of the UK's major multiple retailers. Its main products include fish fingers, breaded and battered portions, and fish cakes. The company's success is reflected in its turnover, which has increased from 1m. [pound] in 1980 to 11m. [pounds] in 1990.

In their specialist sector manufacturers produce to retailer specifications. Although the company produces various innovative products, on its main product lines, coatings tend to be the main differentiator from competitors products. However, with products such as fish fingers, the options for varying coatings are limited.

As a result, service levels and competitive pricing remain the key criteria in securing and retaining business. This requires efficient production facilities that are able to cope with high volume production runs.

While longer production runs tend to be most cost effective, Freebooter balances its levels of automation and manning in order to retain the flexibility to adapt to customer demands at relatively short notice.

Raw Materials

Quality control is maintained at all stages of production, beginning with the laboratory undertaking tests on the raw material delivered.

Their market niche specialisation means they focus on products produced from frozen fish blocks that are based on skinned and deboned fillets (mainly cod and haddock but also other white fish) formed under pressure into the industry standard 16.5lb weight.

These blocks are not subject to the same fluctuations of price and availability as the fresh fish market and the company is able to retain several weeks of stock. Controlling production and logistics then becomes less of a problem compared to many other fish processors.


Over 35,000 [pounds] has been invested in advanced automated saw systems from AEW. The standard 16.5lb blocks allows these saws to be set for predetermined cuts. Blocks are cut into logs which are loaded into the AEW saw to be 'planked'. These planks are then fed into the magazine of the in-line automatic saw which cuts them into the fish finger cores. Blades can be set at angle to cut triangular shapes for breaded and battered portions, whilst the planks can be stored in the recently built in-factory cold stores, prior to further processing. Freebooter is also planning to automate the process for washing the trays used to carry the raw materials to the production lines.


A major part of the recent investment, over 250,000 [pounds], was in the introduction of a production line based on Coppens' forming, battering and breading equipment. This increased the company's total to three, with one line specifically for breaded products and two capable of producing breaded or battered products.

Frozen products ares carried through the lines on conveyors. First they pass through a batter tray and crumbing unit and further batter may then be added before the product is par fried in deep fat friers; new equipment from Coat & Fry has been installed. The product is then automatically transferred to the spiral blast freezer.

Freebooter has also developed a separate sealed preparation area to allow the temperature control required for the production of fish cakes and recipe products to be achieved.


Freebooter's recent investments include Bradman Lake equipment for a new packaging line, totalling over 80,000 [pounds].

Currently their production/packing ratios will vary according to product type, frying and freezing times, and pack sizes. However, efficient production planning ensures continuous flow through the lines.

The packing process is semi automated with customers cartons formed by machine. Packing product into the boxes is still done by hand, allowing the flexibility for them to change production runs at short notice. The cartons are closed and sealed automatically, and then packed into outer cases for distribution.

All cartons are production coded in order that batches can be identified and their quality monitored. Freebooter is also discussing with a number of leading multiple retailers their requirements for open date recording which could involve a further investment of 80,000 [pounds] in new machinery.

Cartons are checked to ensure correct weight and effective sealing, with a weighing machine automatically rejecting underweight packs.

Specification Checks

Quality control will also involve the laboratory undertaking regular batch tests of finished product. This will be checked against various retailers' stringent specifications (including appearance, taste and texture). This is reinforced by retail multiples quality approval of their factory and production processes, including regular visits to check the facilities.

Cold Store/Despatch/Transport

The cold store can currently hold 500 tonnes of finished product and the company also uses contracted storage to handle its increased production capacity. Plans are now being implemented to transform its existing dry goods and engineering stores to provide further cold store facilities on site. Product is retained in the cold stores until ready for transportation by fully refrigerated lorries.

Value Added Products

While retaining its market sector, Freebooter has developed products, such as fish portions with cheese and fish cakes, containing particles of tomato relish which melt when cooked. The company is also evaluating opportunities for further innovations including salmon-based products.

Such new products tend to offer higher margins. However, they carry a higher risk of failure and tend to reduce the production efficiently (as they are usually based on smaller production runs).

The decision to introduce a more innovative product has to be a trade off against the cost of producing lower volumes and the additional margin offered.

Competitive Advantages in


Most competitors in the target markets tend to be larger companies. This can often provide advantages to Freebooter as larger companies usually require longer production runs to achieve cost effectiveness. If necessary, Freebooter can normally profitably accommodate smaller production runs.

With smaller production runs, the company does not need to be as highly automated, which leads to further flexibility. For example, pack changes can be accommodated very quickly. Such benefits give them a competitive advantages.

Freebooter is a production driven business with facilities which allow it to guarantee reliability, product quality and production flexibility - key competitive advantages. The company has also developed its strength by combining this with product innovation.

Freebooter intends to apply the features of its flexible manufacturing, developed for multiples - such as consistent quality and tight portion control - to increase its share of the catering and independent retail markets.

PHOTO : A view of some of the processing lines
COPYRIGHT 1990 Food Trade Press Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Freebooter Seafoods
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Nov 1, 1990
Previous Article:Macfish on the move.
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