TGB has competitiveness to a tea

No nonsense competitiveness at Tata Global Beverages' Tetley tea factory.

About Tata Global Beverages

  • TGB purchased Tetley in 2000
  • TGB is the second largest tea company in the world
  • 250 million TGB drinks are consumed daily around the world

“In my opinion a well run UK plant can compete with any plant anywhere in the world,” states Steve Eastham , operations director at Tata Global Beverages’ Tetley tea factory in Eaglescliffe, near Stockton-on-Tees.

His confident response answers a question on his feelings about the relative competitiveness of the UK environment for manufacturing compared to other locations around the world.

It’s difficult to draw his opinions on red tape, the tax regime or industrial culture and strategy, even though the Eaglescliffe site is midway through a £2m compliance programme. But when it comes to factors that are directly within his control, Eastham is single-mindedly committed to raising the bar for efficiency and flexibility in order to maintain industry leadership.

The Eaglescliffe factory is a testament to the virtues of high tech automation for UK food and drink manufacturing.

Tata Global Beverages invests about £3m a year in the site for strategic automation of processes to remove low-skilled labour and improve reliability. Automation investments have also enabled Tetely to offer what Eastham describes as “clear cost leadership” to its customers in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Canada, despite the low unit cost of tea bags which are a top 10 commodity item for UK supermarkets.

In recent years, the desire for cost leadership in its category has been the major driver behind process improvement and efficiency gains at Eaglescliffe, alongside a determined approach to excellence in customer service.

“The Tobacco industry has been particularly useful for benchmarking against and identifying best practice.”

Installing new technology has been a key part of this strategy, but Eastham says that in order to turn technology investment into competitiveness, it must be coupled with a rigorous planned maintenance regime and intensive workforce training and development.

“The key with automation projects is to improve reliability,” explains Eastham, and Eaglesciffe’s overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) demonstrates that it has become a practised hand at achieving ever-increasing levels of reliability from its kit. In 2008 when TGB purchased Tetely, the site’s OEE was around 70%. Today it is between 85% and 90% – which outs it in the top tenth percentile for industry performance.

Eastham says that the start of this improvement journey and investment optimisation mission began, and continues with rigorous benchmarking.

“The Tobacco industry has been particularly useful for benchmarking against and identifying best practice,” says Eastham. “This is because, like the tea industry it is very fast moving, highly competitive and essentially requires very similar process capability – wrapping a dry, natural product.”

Within this loose process description however, variation is constantly morphing due to the relentless development of new products.

Staff at Eaglescliffe get an average of 27 days training a year

Tata Global Beverages’ R&D and new product development teams are based in London, however, Eaglescliffe employs a dedicated team of engineers and technicians whose task it is to understand the manufacturability of new products and ensure that the plant has the capability and capacity to adopt the innovations at the volumes desired. Eastham says that at any one time there might be 40 new products being investigated for introduction to the plant’s lines – so the new product introduction team is certainly kept busy.

With energy costs a key concern, automation projects are undertaken with care and with a view to enhancing long-term energy efficiency. This is backed by widespread energy reduction and optimisation initiatives in the plant including the palletisation of tissue waste from teabags being burnt for office heating, the introduction of variable speed dust extractors and air compressors, and using more efficient lighting units to name just a few.

But the critical element in making the most of investments in capital equipment, maintenance infrastructure and process innovation is people development, says Eastham, and he is keen to highlight the far reaching and ongoing work at Tetley to enhance employee skills and confidence.

TGB’s comprehensive training provision won it a National Training Award in 2012 – and a quick look over the range of courses available to employees clearly shows why. Employees – who all have an average of 27 days of formal training available per year – can take courses in health and safety, food safety, skills for life (basic numeracy and literacy, plus computer skills) NVQ level 2 in performing manufacturing operations and lean skills.

There are also management courses for shop floor employees upwards and even taster courses in 35mm camera skills and Spanish.

The broad training offering reflects a view that successful, competitive business is based on developing a highly skilled and capable workforce, not just for the plant environment, but also for its local environment.