Nick Law, operations director at Allied Bakeries, talks to TM about the recent £30m investment at its Walthamstow production facility and what the expansion means for its future as one of Britain's premium bread manufacturers.
TM: You’ve just invested £30m into expanding the Walthamstow site following substantial investments in the Glasgow and Stockport plants. What were the primary reasons for following suit at Walthamstow?
We’ve invested for a number of reasons. Because a lot of the factories were bought in the 50s and 60s, the equipment is now old as well as being small in scale and manual in terms of running. Our total investment programme is to start replacing the smaller plants, like here, where we’ve taken our two bread plants and replaced them with a bigger, individual one. Allied Bakeries has committed to a five year process of regeneration for all of our production facilities.
TM: How has Allied implemented sustainable manufacturing into its Walthamstow facility, and was this factored into the investment?
We were the first bakery company to put a carbon footprint on our loaves five years ago. We are currently assessing our overall sustainability, but our present commitment is to lower our carbon footprint year-on-year. After the first revision we lowered our carbon footprint by 13% on all our products. What that says is that if you add up what we’re doing across our manufacturing sites and our logistics operations then we are continuously improving our sustainability. 90% of what leaves the factory is recycled, and with zero landfill. Our efforts say everything we are doing at Walthamstow is reflective of our intentions.
TM: You recently became the UK’s second biggest baker with revenues up 10%, despite operating in an increasingly health conscious society where consumer product knowledge has become more sophisticated. How has Allied Bakeries combated concerns over the nutritional value of bread?
We’re fortunate that we have a staple of brands within Allied, and healthier options like Burgen give us a wider territory to play in. Under that brand we’ve recently launched Chia, a new superfood, as well as having existing Buckwheat and Sunflower products. In the wider consumer base, Kingsmill 50-50 is also the leading brand in the healthy sector of the main brands. These products show that what has ultimately helped us is adapting to consumer needs. Having that level of flexibility and possessing a willingness to adapt by being concious of changing tastes by offering something for everyone has served us well.
TM: In a sector heavy on automation, has Allied experienced challenges in attracting new talent to the expanded Walthamstow site?
As part of the investment we’re currently carrying out the biggest investment in bakery training that any company has done in recent times. We’re going through a process of upskilling existing employees and recruiting new people to the sector. Paul [Hughes, general manager] has put together a programme of taking through people through everything they need to know about the food industry. But attracting the right people can be tricky. While there are some generic skills you want to give people in the food industry, being a baker you have to understand the technology and that’s the bit that makes baking an interesting profession. It’s heavily dependent on the ingredients you put in and how you control the process is crucial to getting a good product at the end of it.
TM: After this investment and the increase in capacity, what does the future have in store for the company?
As a business first and foremost we want to look after the consumer and make sure we are meeting their needs in the market, focusing on variety, health and value. As a result, we have a number of product launches to meet these aspirations from people, which includes a big programme over the next 12 months. From an operations point of view, we have a big job to make sure that we maximise the return on our £30m project investment. Our objective is to be the leanest bakers within the industry, and as we ramp up our plants across the country, we’re looking to see enhanced efficiency.