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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May 2005, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Larger than life
Charlie Bigham
Charlie Bigham's business is growing

We're all interested in where our food comes from and how it's produced.

And whether those food producers are skimping on quality to make themselves a profit.

Charlie Bigham started experimenting with food on his kitchen table.

This led to his first factory spread over 2,000 square feet, where a team of two grew to 25, in some sheds at the back of a trading estate.

Then, round the corner from the original, he built a 10,000 square foot factory unit.

Eventually 100 people worked there.

Now he's just moved to his new pride and joy, a 35,000 square footer capable of taking 300 employees.

This rapid expansion has taken just 8 years.


Inside the new premises there's a big emphasis on developing new recipes to try to stay ahead of the competition.

The food is sent out raw, not partly cooked like most supermarket ready meals - which Charlie says leaves the customer to do the fun bit of proper cooking.

fresh ingredients
Bigham's meals use fresh ingredients

The latest experiment is with salmon en croute.

In the kitchen where it's being developed it looks tasty, but the worry in many people's minds is what happens when something lovingly prepared on a small scale is then produced in bulk down on the factory floor.

But in Charlie's factory everything is done by hand - not conveyor belt operators.

Staff wash, chop, slice, dice and marinade ingredients - just like any good restaurant.

Once the meals are assembled, it's normal in the industry to spot check a few of them, to make sure the right quality, size and weight of ingredients have been put in and there aren't any nasty surprises in the package.

A meal might typically cost around 5 in the supermarket and are designed to serve two people.

So Charlie Bigham is serving the more expensive end of the ready meal market where the customer pays for hand crafted food.

But even he admits that there's a natural limit to the amount he can produce this way - and his new 2.5m factory is the biggest he thinks will work.

Student Guide

Charlie Bigham set up Bigham's which makes delicious, interesting ready-to-cook meals.

They are made with the sort of ingredients that Charlie would use in his kitchen at home.

In the Chicken and Choriso kebabs you'll find:

Fresh chicken (39%), fresh red pepper (31%), chorizo sausage (19%), water, tomato puree, fresh coriander, vegetable oil, smoked paprika, lemon juice, salt, garlic puree, black pepper, turmeric.

No preservatives or E numbers!

Bighams has just moved to a new location and has 300 staff but the ethos hasn't changed.

The food is made in kitchens - not factories.

It is made by chefs - not conveyor belt operators.

You'll find them washing, chopping, slicing, dicing and marinating - just like any good restaurant.

Just think...

What advantages are there to organising production like this?

What are the disadvantages?

What does it tell you about the market that Charlie is aiming at?

The personal touch

Charlie wants to stay hands-on.

The business is still at a stage when he can be involved in almost every detail.

This is exactly what many entrepreneurs enjoy.

It's their business and they want to make the decisions.

What the chefs are asked to come up with some Summer Sizzlers, Charlie sees the results and has a strong influence on the decision.

What the business needs to move to bigger premises, Charlie decides.

He looks at the finances to make sure it all works.

Bighams has a growing team but there are few big decisions that Charlie help to make.

It's a private limited company so he has to answer to his share holders but it's not like a public company.

Just think...

Why do entrepreneurs really like being involved in every aspect of decision making?

What problems can this lead to as a business gets bigger and bigger?

How is running a private limited company different from a public limited company?

Letting go Charlie's business is in a field in which you can continue to have an influence in many aspects of decision making even as it grows bigger.

He has, however, taken on experts to run many aspects of the business.

There are specialists running sales, marketing, finance, production, health and safety and many others specific functions within the business.

They are all on the Bigham's website.

Just think...

Why has Charlie taken on experts to run different aspects of the business?

What advantage does this have?

Why are some entrepreneurs unwilling to take on experts?

Big business - big decisions

As businesses grow, it becomes harder for the owner or managing director to take a hands-on role in every decision.

An entrepreneur has to learn to delegate.

Some really don't like it and decide to sell up.

Others make the most of the economies of scale and lead the business into further growth.

Many chilled food companies produce their own branded products and make others for supermarkets as well.

They can buy onions, tomatoes, meat and spices by the tonne. It always cost less when you buy more.

They build factories with production lines to make the most of technical economies.

As Charlie has done, they take on specialists to ensure that experts make the decisions.

Just think...

How can economies of scale help a business to grow?

What factors can lead to diseconomies?

What sort of business benefits most from economies of scale?

What sort of business doesn't benefit from economies of scale?

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