Wrigley UK’s Plymouth factory produces more than 4 million packets every day. Jonny Williamson learns how.
Production begins by mixing all the ingredients – the gum base, sweeteners, flavours and preservatives – in machines similar in appearance and action to bread mixers.
Most of the ingredients, some 80%, are mechanically added, automatically scanning and checking each one off the master recipe. Every 20 minutes each mixer machine produces a 600kg ‘loaf’ ensuring a constant supply, even though Wrigley manufactures in batches.
Each ‘loaf’ passes through a sophisticated set of rollers forming it into a thin, wide ribbon. Each pair of rollers is set incrementally closer together than the previous pair, gradually reducing the thickness of the gum.
A light coating of finely powdered sugar is added during this stage to ensure the gum doesn’t stick to the rollers, as well as helping enhance flavour.
Quality is of paramount importance. Of the site’s five core principles – quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency and freedom, quality unquestionably comes first. A test taste is conducted every 30 minutes during rolling, and the process has multiple human and automated quality checks throughout, including advanced metal detectors and x-ray gates.
From rolling, the now ribbon of gum is scored in two directions and stacked in trays of 1,000 pellet sheets. A robotic arm then takes each tray and stacks it onto a metal or metal-impregnated plastic pallet destined for the conditioning tunnel.
Very cold air is blasted through and around the pallets for up to 24 hours to not only cool the finished gum but also ensure it will have the right consistency to stay fresh on store shelves.
The gum comes out of conditioning into one of five breaker stations where the sheets are broken along the score lines into individual pellets, which are subsequently fed into an automated coating spray drier.
Multiple layers of a prepared sugar-free syrup mixture are sprayed onto the gum to form a crunchy coating around the soft gum centre.
After being graded, the pellet-style gum is lined up in rows of 10, wrapped in packaging and both ends are sealed. Hubba Bubba ‘Bubble Tape’ is slightly different in that the gum sheets are rolled into logs, rather than being scored, and cut into ‘tapes’ with an ultrasonic knife.
Each tape is then picked up and placed into a plastic clamshell-like package by a robot and heat-sealed.