A renewed approach
Long-established Apple International bounced back from the recession with a more focused approach despite universally-felt challenges and is now starting to make an impression on the US market.
Founded in 1985 by Steve Smith and Andy Fraser, Apple International celebrated a long period of growth and success supplying a range of food production equipment for the global market. At the core of the company’s product offering is its depositor machine, which incorporates a reservoir or hopper with highly accurate measuring devices and a valve for dropping ingredients onto a conveyor system. “We work right across the food industry in bakeries, confectioneries, dairies and ready meal & fast food producers,” outlines MD, Steve Smith. “From a basic machine, we gathered pace and developed other depositors into the range, which handled everything from one gram to 2000 grams. As we became more well-known in the food service industry, people wanted us to do more than just supply depositors so we then went into systems, which included conveyors, multiple depositors, other ancillary and mechanical handling equipment.”
Building up distribution channels across the world as it grew, Apple International was represented in Australia, South East Asia, Europe, South America, Canada and the US. However, like many, the company came under pressure during the recession as overheads exceeded sales and Apple International went into administration. “The company went through a rough time but we came out the other side and have downsized the business,” explains Steve. “We now don’t have the massive overheads that we had previously; we have a quarter of the staff and are in a unit a quarter of the size as pre-recession.”
Despite this, the company has still been able to maintain its operations in selling depositor systems for food processing. “We now contract most of our work out so our components are manufactured out-of-house before coming into us after various checks and inspections,” he continues. “Interestingly, we still use a lot of our local suppliers from previously but they just supply us with more now! Therefore, we are still building the same type of equipment but we just do it in a different way at a reduced cost that is more manageable for us.”
With a renewed strategy behind it, recent years for Apple International have been positive. “Before, my focus was split all over the world, but now I have been able to refocus on strong markets like the US and UK, then it’s just a case of maintaining our strong relationship with global and European distributors,” says Steve. The US has been central to this renewed focus and collaboration with a large ready meal producer in 103America is laying foundations for a successful future in the market. “We set up an industrial partnership with a company in the States called Stainless Steel Specialists Inc in Wisconsin, who operate under the name ‘Apple USA LLC’ when representing us,” notes Steve. “Through this partnership we supplied this ready meals company with some test equipment and this relationship has proved to be very beneficial for us both.”
After a period of trials and variations, the American customer awarded Apple International with a contract to replace all of its existing depositors that had been supplied by an American competitor.
“The main reason for this is that we demonstrated a much more precise and accurate depositing system than they were used to,” highlights Steve. “There are a lot of depositors about but we have taken all the bad design away and used our 30-plus years’ experience to bring a lot of innovation in. This ensures that we can achieve much improved weight accuracy in our equipment than was previously available. The customer measures its efficiency in waste and the competitor’s machines were giving away up to $1500 per shift in waste material through over filling and poor depositor performance. Our machines have delivered an 85 per cent waste saving just by depositing the required weight, but with superior accuracy.” Overall, the contract is to replace 23 lines with seven completed so far. Apple International recently manufactured and supplied depositing equipment onto a completely new line, which represented a total $9 million investment for the client.
“What has been special about this collaboration is the ongoing development that has been central to it from the first machine until now,” explains Steve. “All machines since the first have had various changes made to them due to the customer wanting that extra bit. Therefore, what was a fairly basic machine has developed into a very sophisticated and clever piece of equipment with diagnostics on screen, temperature readouts, etc.” With its eye on expanding into the US market, this focused, customer-orientated development has been critical to achieving its growth visions over there. He continues: “We are now in a situation where we can show the product at the Process Expo in Chicago in September 2015. Luckily, we have a machine that hasn’t been installed into a customer’s line yet and they are kindly letting us demonstrate that at the show. Effectively, this is the launch of a machine that has undergone a process of continual development over the last three years. It’s also a good demonstration of how we can ork with the customer to develop bespoke solutions.”
Despite outsourcing much of its component manufacture to contracted suppliers, Apple International’s site in Hull is still set up to maintain its production levels and includes facilities for basic machining and fabrication. “Previously, we had our own CNC facilities and electrical department, for instance, but now we have almost a scaled down version of this set up. We don’t have CNC facilities any more but we do have basic machine tools to make individual components as and when required, as well as fabrication and demonstration areas to trial machines,” says Steve. “This is supported in the States by our partner who holds spare parts in stock to supply direct to the customer quickly, as well as a support for M&E engineering.”
The economic downturn in 2008 hit the UK manufacturing industry hard and many companies were forced to re-evaluate their operations and positions in the market. Many didn’t survive, but those that did undoubtedly did so as a much stronger and robust company. Apple International demonstrates how scaling back and refocusing attention can be an alternative route to success and its long-term outlook very much reflects this. “We’re going to be looking really closely at our business in the USA alongside our partners there to increase our presence,” concludes Steve. “At the same time we will of course continue to support our business in the UK and Europe.”
Products: Manufactures food production equipment
Sites: One in the UK, plus global distribution and industrial partners