Delifrance – Breaking bread

Posted on 25 Dec 2015 by Callum Bentley

Federico Ercoli breaks bread with Delifrance to learn more about its major investment and the latest trends in rustic bread.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the food industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It accounts for 15% of UK GVA and for 15% of the national manufacturing workforce.

What is unprecedented though, is the latest surge in demand for premium and artisanal products, in particular within the baked goods sector. IRI data from July confirmed the instore bakery bread market alone is worth £612m.

“With the surge in interest in baking and customers being as discerning over their sandwich carrier as their sandwich filling, we are experiencing an unprecedented demand for affordable, rustic breads,” says managing director, Ian Dobbie.

So, it seems the six-year, £30m investment programme the company just completed at its Southall facility is not short of ambition.

Delifrance UK – founded in 1988 and part of the NutriXo Group since 2001 – now offers three bread ranges after having completely revamped the site acquired in 2009 from Le Pain Croustillant.

The company installed a brand new stone baked bread line and included a new innovation and development bakery area, as well as a 500-pallet dry goods warehouse with automated management system. If it sounds impressive it’s because it is.

40 new positions have been created with the new line.
40 new positions have been created with the new line.

The target? Dobbie, who has been with the company for 15 years, is adamant. “We didn’t want to develop in areas that were very commodity driven with no added value. […] We never set out to be the lowest cost producer in the area, our objective is to add value and innovation to the sector,” he tells me.

However, innovation can come with a cost, and considering the level of automation in the plant, I wondered if employees were the ones that eventually paid the price.

“There’s no doubt, if you look at the numbers of operatives required on the shift on the new line compared to the old line, it is considerably less, but it has to be at a degree for us to remain competitive in the market,” Dobbie explains.

“We created roughly 40 new positions with the new line and I’m pleased to say, the majority of those people were recruited internally,” he adds.

So the machines haven’t quite taken over just yet, but it is undeniable, people need to be trained, and luckily, this is something Dobbie takes pride in doing.

“We do invest in people and we invest in their skills, and the majority of time we’re getting return on that investment back by having them retained and committed to the business,” he says.

Dobbie has no doubts about the commitment that drives Delifrance’s workforce, “While driving off from the factory at 6 o’clock on a Friday evening, I have to go home thinking that the people here want to do their best for the business, that they’re going to work in a safe way and to the highest level of food and safety standard. If I didn’t think that I wouldn’t drive out of that gate in the evening.”