Following recent acquisitions, ALS Laboratories (UK) Ltd has grown its client base, consolidated its offer, and invested further in people and equipment

Offering a comprehensive range of food, drink, water and pharmaceutical testing, ALS Laboratories prides itself on the integrity of its results and the quality of its customer service.

A client-led and technology-driven business, the company has also developed a fast-growing food consultancy business, offering everything from audits to technical training.

New acquisitions
In December 2016, ALS took over the 2 Sisters Food Group in-house testing laboratory at BioCity, Nottingham, which carries out microbiological analysis. The purchase followed the acquisition of ALcontrol’s UK food and waters business, completed a month earlier, with the water testing becoming absorbed by sister company ALS Environmental.

Over the following year, the business went through a rationalisation process that included significant structural changes. In keeping with the company’s hub-and-spoke model, ALcontrol’s chemistry labs in Rotherham and Shrewsbury were absorbed into the business hub in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, and a small lab in Dunstable was also closed.

“It’s more efficient to run a chemistry operation from one site because of the scale of the capital investment involved,” says Nigel Richards, Sales and Marketing Director at ALS Laboratories (UK). “Micro testing is still a very traditional, labour-intensive process, whereas chemistry testing is technology driven, which is why we’ve centralised it.”

Increased client base
Absorbing ALcontrol’s clients meant harmonising the business based on one common Laboratory Information Management system (LIMS).

“It’s the machinery that holds the business together and it’s important as it puts all of the former ALcontrol labs and ours on the same platform,” explains Nigel Richards.

“More pertinent to our clients, we’ll be standardising the results portal, ‘Webtrieve’, which we are rolling out to former ALcontrol clients. Integration is all about standardisation and making the business more efficient, and we’ve planned the transition very carefully.”

A client-led business
Having worked hard to retain ALcontrol clients, ALS has continued to run regular client surveys, using the feedback to measure performance. During the course of last year, 82.5% of those surveyed rated the company’s overall service as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.

Following the acquisitions, ALS have significantly increased the headcount at its hub lab in Chatteris – with numbers rising from 45 to 90 alone in the nutritional chemistry laboratory.

Staff are made aware of the importance of providing a positive “ALS Experience” where all employees are encouraged to understand their value to the business and the part they can play in giving memorable client service.

“It’s all about reliability, service and value,” says Nigel Richards. “As a service-led business, the quality of our staff and the way in which they interact with our clients can make all the difference and help us to stand out from our competitors.

ALS’ has continued to invest in its people, with a competency framework, salary progression and celebrating success schemes, designed to reward staff and promote career development. Operating in such a specialised industry, ALS also recognises the importance of providing comprehensive technical training for staff. A new Talent Acquisition Co-ordinator has recently been appointed to help source new industry talent whilst a dedicated Training Manager runs the in-house Training Academy at Chatteris.

Consultancy business
Operating alongside the core testing activities, the company’s consultancy work has proved the fastest growing area of its business.

Based in Rotherham, the Technical Consultancy Team assist retailers and food manufacturers with the management and interpretation of test results, factory audits, technical training and activities that address food safety and fraud issues.

“With the downward pressure on prices leading to cost cutting within food manufacturing, companies are looking to outsource a greater range of services and are coming to us for things like technical training for new staff,” says Nigel Richards.

Technological advances
A technology-driven business, ALS has recently invested in LCMS equipment at the Chatteris site to detect a greater range of contaminants, along with investment in new Ankom machines, which part-automate fibre analysis, reducing the turnaround time for clients.

An enhanced allergen testing service has also been launched, and ‘collaborative robots’ are in the process of being installed to perform some of the more repetitive laboratory tasks, freeing up staff to direct their expertise elsewhere.

“We are at the forefront of changes in the food testing industry,” says Nigel Richards. “ALS has always had a strong record in leading rather than following. We’re offering our clients a faster turnaround and the volume of work is producing economies of scale, which has enabled us to offer our clients a more competitive price. We prefer to focus on value for money rather than the lowest cost, but we’re aware of the pressure on our clients to keep prices low.”

Looking ahead
While the recent acquisitions have increased overall revenues substantially and total revenue has almost quadrupled since 2010, the company is well prepared for future challenges.

“We’re in a very challenging marketplace, with Brexit looming ever closer, online shopping continuing to increase and the potential of a merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda all having a big impact on the industry. In addition, the move away from plastic to recyclable packaging is likely to have implications on food safety as manufacturers and retailers will still have to put safe products onto their shelves. That’s something we’ll be helping clients with.”

Moving forward, the company’s key objective is to continue to build a resilient business that is able to withstand change, while still providing a comprehensive service package to clients.

“We’ve seen a major shift in our business model from a test-based transactional organisation to one that’s now more integrally involved with our clients in terms of providing a complete range of food safety solutions. We’re a dynamic business, where change is constant. Following the ALcontrol acquisition, we have maintained service levels and emerged as an even stronger organisation that is geared up to meeting the needs of our manufacturers.”

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