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Case Study: The Bath Soft Cheese Company

Growth

Members of the Padfield family have been dairy farmers at Park Farm for more than 200 years. They are now award winning cheese makers, selling their produce at outlets across the UK. But things haven’t always gone smoothly for the business and after a difficult time due to economic pressures, they managed to turn things around thanks to help from one of the Growth Hub’s service providers, Bath and North East Somerset Council.

The family run farm diversified to start making cheese over 20 years ago - Hugh Padfield, Managing Director of Bath Soft Cheese Company, said “My father had found that there had once been a ‘Bath Cheese’ long ago. He wanted to make something that had traditionally been made in the Bath area. This was the perfect product”.

Hugh’s dad then set about carefully piecing the recipe together and shortly after started to make and sell it from his family kitchen. Initially the business did well with local buyers happy to take up the product, but expanding beyond this proved a struggle. Money was invested to do up the family’s barns to accommodate making and maturing rooms.

In 2010, Hugh left his job with Vodafone and joined his father running the business. Within five years revenue was tripled, customer base was increased and they produced more cheese than ever before.

In the last financial year the business opened a new purpose built dairy, won the World Cheese Awards with one of their products and turned over £850,000 in cheese sales.

Challenges

The Padfields set out to create a business they would be proud of, one where they could control the price of their produce and have it reflect the work put in. In short – a non-commoditised business.

Hugh’s parents’ main aim was to generate enough income to keep the farm going and a business their children would want to take on. Hugh said: “For me it was about creating a business strong enough to handle any set-backs and give me an alternative to a London based career, so I could bring up my family on the farm.”

The challenges the business faced included inconsistency of the cheese, particularly with new types of cheeses. This resulted in a lot of cheese being thrown away. An insufficient customer base also became apparent with one bank manager saying “Any fool can make more produce it’s selling it that’s difficult”.

The family soon realised that the business was not big enough to work with supermarkets. It took time to for them to work out how to cultivate the independent trade and food service trade. Another issue was maintaining food hygiene and quality standards in their converted barns, so the family sought help from the local authority’s food hygiene team.

Overcoming issues

An Environmental Health Officer (EHO) from  Bath and North East Somerset Council helped members of the Padfield family to identify what changes they needed to make in order to comply with the hygiene standards necessary to  trade  safely. Hugh said “They [the EHOs] were realistic about what needed to be done and what would be good but wasn’t immediately necessary.”

The EHO explained what kind of testing was required, what staff needed to do and how to carry out testing to get useful results. Most importantly the EHO told the Bath Soft Cheese Company how to act on the results.

The cheese was being manufactured in an old barn that had been converted into a dairy. This was a single room where cheese was made and raw milk was pasteurised. The EHO worked with the business to advise on safe practices to ensure there was no cross contamination whilst a new dairy was being built.

Advice included cleaning and testing for bacteria. The EHO explained how to take swabs and what kind of results were acceptable and what was not. They pointed out that the area swabbed should not be too large or it could  create results that were unrealistically negative. The officer also gave advice on the build of the new dairy including separation of clean and dirty areas, materials to use and equipment to use.

Outcomes

On the advice and guidance of the food safety team, staff at Bath Soft Cheeses on Park Farm test every batch of cheese for bacteria and rarely get a positive result. They have complied and comfortably passed all food safety inspections to a high standard.

The new dairy was completed in early 2015 enabling the business to produce more cheese, more efficiently helping the businesses to  grow even more. The team currently sells produce at around 20 markets per week (mainly farmer’s markets), has two permanent outlets on the farm and a unit at Borough Market in Southwark, London.