Aimia Foods is a privately owned £50m turnover business based in Haydock close to both the famous race course and the equally infamous M6.
The company was founded in 1981 and now employs 250 people over three sites. Aimia Foods specialise in the hot and cold drinks market in addition to providing full outsourced production and distribution facilities for major blue chips. They also have the exclusive rights to sell a wide range of household name goods as well as their own range of products that are mainly for the vending and foodservice markets.
Aimia Foods run a business that is measurably beyond world class in both quality and consistency. The dedication to ever improve what they do borders on the obsessive, in the nicest possible way.
They have won numerous awards and accolades most impressive of which, is the awarding of BRC A* accreditation following an unannounced two day audit, one of only a handful of food companies to have reached such a standard and the only beverage company in the UK to have done so.
The Aimia Foods client list is made up of the great and the good of the food world, chances are very high that you have numerous Aimia Foods products in your kitchen cupboards. That list is growing every week yet the management of the business led by MD Rob Unsworth, continue to strive towards raising standards even further. Aimia’s reputation is of the very finest and for very justifiable reasons.
So how is all this achieved? The best way to describe it is to explore the two key areas on which Rob Unsworth and his team focus the most; Process quality and people.
At Aimia Foods, using the undoubted skill of Operations Director Patrick Mroczak, the management team have intelligently and logically taken the six-sigma, lean and Kaizen ways of thinking to create their own, very effective system of continued improvement. This powerful tool has allowed management to eradicate non added value streams, increase capacity through streamlining and keep processes under much better control.
Patrick explained the various different systems in use; “Lean principles tackle the wastage elements by removing non added value streams in our processes. This is where we utilise techniques such as Kaizen which are improvements, 5S which is a work place organisational tool, TPM which is based around productive maintenance, SMED which reduces change over’s and all measured through OEE. OEE is a world class measuring KPI derived from the plant availability, its machine performance and product quality outputs.”
A veritable smorgasbord of control and management systems then, but paying lip service to a thousand such systems wouldn’t make the slightest difference to your operation; it’s the consistent and rigorous application of them that brings the results.
Combined with a program of substantial investment over the last few years, the results are astonishing, as is the attention to detail in the way that the principles and findings are applied. It means as mentioned at the beginning, that processes here have been honed and tuned to the point of being above world class. Aimia Foods pride themselves on setting standards above and beyond the very exacting standards of their clients, enabling the management of each line to measure the performance of their equipment within very fine tolerances.
Given that a lot of the packing carried out by Aimia Foods is placing measured amounts of powder into containers, the dilemma faced is that; too little and you are illegal, too much and you are giving money away giving a very fine error margin. Traditionally this has been an area of concern for the company but thanks to the introduction of the new way of thinking, it is pretty much a thing of the past.
Every working day at Aimia Foods begins with an assessment of the previous day’s work. As Patrick explained, “The aim is to clear up any issues, set priorities for the current shift and remove potential pressure points.” The planned down time allows everybody to take a step away and look at areas for improvement. Weekly there is a management meeting to discuss details in greater depth. Slightly more unusual though is the use of a regular Kaizen hour where each area of the business has a planned stoppage and everybody has the chance to throw their ideas forward. This then allows small changes to be implemented quickly and efficiently with no unplanned down time.
Once the lines are running there is then an hourly quality check over and above the impressive automated checking that includes cutting edge x-ray technology. This is where the idea of being above world class comes from. Each line is constantly measured for accuracy, quality and output and compared with previous days, current priorities and the world standard. Most lines are operated at that high level continually. In the newest site which is dedicated to one of the biggest brands in the world, they are running at 100% for fulfilling orders on time and in full.
The investment in state of the art agglomeration equipment has also allowed Aimia Foods to add value to its products by being able to granulate powders during blending meaning that they simply mix better when you apply liquid. Think of that next time you are making your favourite hot chocolate! More accurate measuring and better management controls have seen one major line go from three shifts to just one because of the efficiency increases.
The Staff are a cornerstone of any successful business and how you nurture and support them is of utmost importance. An investor in people for more than ten years, Aimia Foods also recruit the very best specialists from around the food industry to head up various departments.
The implementation of six-sigma and lean relies on staff knowledge so a lot of time and energy is spent on coaching and mentoring. For those of you not familiar with Six-Sigma, Patrick describes it quite succinctly as; “Six Sigma is the application of problem solving and statistical analysis techniques in working through the Define, Measures, Analyse, Improve and Control cycle of process improvements with the aim of eliminating process defects and process variation.
“At Aimia Foods all staff are empowered to learn and get involved in process improvements. Lean Six Sigma operates on a colour belt structure starting at yellow belt following onto green belt and finishing at Blackbelt. Master black belt is the highest accolade and awarded when evidence of multi projects and ranking structure are demonstrated and in operation.”
Patrick is the Aimia Foods Master Blackbelt and at the moment there is one Blackbelt, two green belt and 8 yellow belts straddling different areas of the factory such as quality, production and engineering at both operator and management level. It is a very clear demonstration of the level of commitment to quality and manufacturing best practice.
All this also means that Aimia Foods is a very safe place to work and the company has an exemplary safety record. Complacency can be the enemy here so great care is taken to ensure everybody looks after themselves and each other.
As well as going out of their way to make staff feel wanted, the list of benefits given to Aimia Foods employees is enormous. It ranges from ice lollies in hot weather through to free holiday homes dotted in Spain and the UK and pretty much everything in between. The management go out of their way to make life comfortable and rewarding for the staff. Whilst touring the facility with Rob and Patrick, the warmth with which they were greeted by their employees was a wonderful thing to see.
Everybody we met was comfortable having a quick friendly chat with the boss. The walls of the factory and its corridors are covered with photographs of staff on any number of activities from evening functions to football matches. Arguably the most important is that all members of staff are actively encouraged to improve the business. All production lines are run with dedication and care by the workers on the shop floor, each taking pride in the cleanliness and working efficiency. Different areas and lines are encouraged to audit each other and time is built in for cleaning, and maintenance. As Patrick explained, “The people working on the line are given time to carry out cleaning and so on during the working day rather than at the end of shifts. That way it is always done well and not rushed.”
Emotional support is given equal thought and there is a quarterly “How Are We Doing” meeting with Rob where any matters of concern can be discussed directly with him rather than via line managers. Rob explained that it was an incredibly powerful thing; “Sometimes people have issues that they don’t feel they can discuss with their managers for whatever reason, this allows them to come straight to me instead. We have a policy of fully listening to and supporting staff at all levels as well as improving all areas of everybody’s working life.”
Another big part of working for Aimia Foods is the spirit of competition. There are quarterly prizes for; Outstanding Employee, Customer Service Excellence and Best Innovation. There is then an annual award and an overall winner. Last year the lucky person chosen won a new car! The biggest winner of course is the company itself, happy, proud staff will go the extra mile unbidden.
A few years ago Aimia Foods won a major contract with one of the biggest food brands in the world to package and distribute cereal across a range of markets including Europe and the Middle East. The deal was done because unlike their competitors Aimia Foods did not offer to build a production line into the existing factory, they offered to build an entirely new, state of the art facility. Said new facility is now seen as one of the most efficient of its kind in the world and went from concept to completion in just 6 months. Overseen by plant manager Anne Kirkland, it represents everything about the incredible ability of the company and its people.
Another huge success for the company is that over the last ten years they are also entirely responsible for creating, developing, and taking to market, what is now the second biggest hot chocolate brand in the UK, for another household name brand.
Moving forward Rob sees development coming from essentially more of what has made them successful so far. Taking the best practices from the best companies and adapting them to the Aimia Foods way. Patrick for example recently undertook a Kaizen tour of Japan. Aimia are all about building long term outsourcing contracts for major blue chips and over a £1 million is invested in the plant each year to make sure that they keep themselves at the very cutting edge of their industry.
Aimia Foods pride themselves on being able to provide a full service to clients yet be capable of instigating changes and updates extremely quickly. As you might expect each new client is given a bespoke project management service and the Aimia team work hand in hand with them to ensure that all expectations are reached and indeed exceeded. As Rob Unsworth put it, “It’s the combination of Aimia’s manufacturing capability and product development intelligence combined with excellent customer service that mark us out as an ideal partner for any company looking to outsource in confidence and in a way that allows them to focus on their core business.”
Aimia Foods is a deeply impressive outfit and a formidable player in the food industry worldwide. As the company blurb quite rightly says, the combination of manufacturing, brand management, innovative product development and intelligent out sourcing is unique. The bulging trophy cabinet proudly on display in the main reception speaks for itself. For me though it is the fact that they have managed to achieve that position while remaining true to their loyal staff and their guiding principles as a business that is the most impressive.