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Food and Drink

Tom Russell

Tom Russell is something of an all-rounder in the food industry with a 30-year career that has spanned aquaculture, yellow fats, top-end grocery account management, flour milling and baking. He has overseen factory moves and company acquisitions and undertaken roles in sales, marketing and more recently general management and service provision. 

Tom specialises in working for smaller operations that need to challenge accepted norms and where an ability to work within owner-operator frameworks requires a more sensitive approach. Tom is currently Managing Director of The Food Incubator, retorting and thermal processing specialists.

One business success

  • Turning around the Celtic Bakers in London from a loss-making bakery going nowhere to becoming a leading supplier of sourdough bread to a top-five supermarket and instigating a £1m swing in profitability.

Two challenges for the sector

  • The growing complexity of supply chains and pressures associated with the sourcing of ingredients combined with the current limitations regarding the availability of auditors in the field to deal with more complicated factory environments. The impact of the latter is an increase in the number of food recalls and food safety issues.
  • The unprecedented increase in production costs across the whole supply spectrum from energy to staple raw materials at a time when access to more affordable labour has been curtailed due to Brexit.

Three forecasts for the sector 

  • I anticipate significant moves ahead to address the food waste problem in the UK, for example over 500,000 ready meals are thrown away each week before even reaching the consumer. This will be driven by massive pressure on both raw material costs but also environmental concerns.
  • The ongoing reduction in affordable labour; the increase in the minimum wage; higher taxes both from National Insurance rises but also a need to pay for the effects of COVID-19 and now a war. These factors will undoubtedly all contribute to a hike in food prices.
  • There will be less easy access to credit for investment to enable companies to drive expansion/aid growth, particularly for smaller businesses looking to make that first move from kitchen to small-scale ‘production’. This is where specialist consultancies such as The Food incubator can really come into their own, helping to identify the best route to achieving food safety compliance / optimum shelf life.

April 2022