Winners of the World Class Manufacturing award at The Manufacturer MX Awards 2015, Accolade Wines welcomed Victoria Fitzgerald to its factory in Bristol for a taste of why it reigned supreme in the World Class category on the night.
It was a refreshing treat to venture west from London towards Bristol for a factory tour, and even more of a privilege to take a stroll around a truly world class facility in the shape of Accolade Wines.
And while Richard Lloyd, general manager at Accolade Park, maintains the site is not “perfect”, my initial impression is one pretty close to perfection.
Located in Avonmouth, the factory is 885,000 sqft in size and was constructed to satisfy the growth in demand for shipping wine in bulk and packaging as close to the customer as possible.
Instead of transporting finished goods, the company takes delivery of wine in bulk 24,000L containers and packages it in the UK.
In fact, Accolade Park now produces 92% of all the wine the firm sells in the UK and Europe, as well as setting new standards in wine production and packaging quality.
Lloyd is truly passionate about everything the site has, is in the process of and strives to achieve, and on several occasions he admits to “being obsessed” over the different areas where the firm is doing something different and innovative compared to its competitors.
He explained, “Our success is all about partnerships, both upstream and downstream in the supply chain. We have high levels of commitment to all our partners and that allows us to take the business forward, as well as help our customers to flourish simultaneously. It is a joined up approach, all the way through from grape to customer shelf.”
Our first stop on the tour was an innovation room, set up with mock supermarket aisles, a casual meeting area and a brightly coloured ideas wall, more reminiscent of the creative freedom of a Google office than the stuffy boardrooms of yesteryear.
The relaxed setting is a part of Accolade’s goal to foster relationships, Lloyd elaborated that it’s not just about a sales unit price, “We want our customers to grow with us, so we do everything we can to develop our brands and often their own label plus the way in which we both operate”.
He continued, “Our Innovation Suite is a purpose built space where we can create shopper experiences, explore innovations and ideas and bring all our technical partners together.”
In particular, the firm has completed extensive research on shelf-ready packaging. “The new improved ‘shelf ready packaging’ versus the old design ensured that 75% of shoppers selected the right wine first time, it generated double the conversion rate and shoppers made the selection in half the time,” Lloyd explained.
I was also shown how the firm innovated at levels of detail, such as the perforation capabilities of a box of bottled wine, to ensure the product was presented neatly in all instances.
The end result is that Accolade Wines’ product looks smart no matter who is stacking it on the shelf every time and provides another subtle point of differentiation from the competition.
I was suitably impressed before I donned a hairnet and steal toe-capped boots to view the production-line, and as I stepped out onto the walkway overlooking the factory, I was not disappointed.
The factory is a shining example of 5S efficiency, Accolade’s production line is set out in a horseshoe shape, which aids team work as opposed to the common linear approach.
The lines comprise of some incredibly high-tech kit, with the “addition in the past 12 months of a new £9m third high speed bottling line [which] has meant the site stays at the forefront of technology”.
There were so many examples of adeptness at the plant, however, seeing consumable work materials and certain power tools made available in the style of a vending machine was something I wanted to know more about.
Lloyd explained, “Again, working with a supply partner we realised there were more efficient and effective methods for issuing of items that often attract a hidden cost on a large site with a rotating shift pattern.
“Now every employee has a card which is swiped to retrieve whatever is needed. This way we can account for everything and nothing gets wasted or lost. An additional benefit is that the consumables are consignment stock so are not charged to Accolade Wines until they are used.”
In addition to the highest levels of efficiency, Lloyd is fervent about employee engagement and knows that it is critical to the success of the business.
“I want each of the team to have as much freedom and empowerment as I do. We have invested heavily in training and each one of our operatives for example has a wine qualification.” he described.
Not only this, but employees have access to an onsite gym, restaurant and congenial shower facilities. So what does the future hold for Accolade Wines?
Lloyd remarked that its success was a product of fostering a balance between freedom of thought and action, and a structured framework, “When I see that happening I’m confident we can find new ways of offering and improving our business from its already healthy position.”