A box of chocolates is emblematic of life’s attainable luxuries - the ideal accompaniment to any celebration, one of the first things that come to mind when making a kind gesture, and of course, a popularised metaphor for life itself. In 1911, Thorntons set out with their core focus to provide customers with what they expect to get from a box of chocolates. This focus has remained the same throughout new innovations and improvements; the only revision was to meet customer’s expectations of a box of chocolates with the name ‘Thorntons’ on it.
Now approaching a century in chocolate making, Thorntons has focussed on keeping their customers happy with the chocolates they know and love, and despite the challenges faced on the high street, they have continued to focus on bringing new and innovative products to the market.
David Proctor, Head of Operations at Thorntons Factory in Derby says “we have an incredible brand loyalty from our customers. They tell us what they like and don’t like, and we maintain our standards and make improvements”.
Four new limited edition boxes are launched each year alongside the existing ones, and there are between 17-22 chocolate block ranges available at any one time. From boxes and tins to trays, pouches, and packets, (and now, time for a new advent calendar) each product requires its own special packaging. And with various products on hand for any likely occasion (as well as a personalised design option), their packaging fluctuates from the traditional chocolate boxes of the Classic and Continental ranges to hampers and gift boxes. At 35 years old, Thorntons Continental range is looking better than ever in its new and sophisticated packaging design.
Fresh Approaches to Packaging
New and innovative products demand a fresh approach to packaging and design, and this is one of the main points of focus for Thorntons’ innovation. Six years ago Thorntons introduced their first robotic packaging line at the factory in Derby, investing in a second line last year. “These robots pack around 900 chocolates a minute,” says Proctor. “They automatically sense the chocolate, measure it to make sure it’s the right size, pick it up and place it in the box at the correct orientation.” Introducing a higher level of accuracy, the robotic packaging line has significantly reduced levels of product wastage, and has encouraged better quality and faster and more efficient productivity all-round. “With this, we give the consumer a better product and become more competitive in the market”, says Proctor.
The introduction of the robotic packaging line has encouraged the development of roles within the factory.
Before the introduction of Thornton’s first robotic packaging line, every chocolate in their assorted boxes was packaged by hand. “We wanted to increase the skills of the people working on the production lines, leading to higher quality jobs”, says Proctor. “And no longer is the monotonous task of moving hands backwards and forward across the belt and putting chocolate in the box the main responsibility”.
Now, “these jobs on the shop floor packaging line are comprised of varied and interesting challenges,” says Proctor, “demanding high levels of responsibility, teamwork skills, management of highly complex technical equipment, and process of materials”.
Long gone are the days where an employee would face constant temptation to devour the product as they worked a shift on the packaging line. But still, you can’t get away from the chocolate. “Like the statistic about the ratio of rats in a metropolis, you’re never less than ten metres away from a chocolate!” says Proctor.
The company source their raw materials from every continent in the world (except Antarctica) but their main supplier for packaging is sourced within the UK. Thorntons have a close relationship with International specialist packaging supplier Chesapeake, whose facilities in the UK provide them with equipment and packaging materials. Chesapeake is focussed on optimising efficient production and they tailor-make production lines to suit every client.
“Running a high volume production line, the automation for packaging is critical, and Chesapeake play a key part in supporting us with that”, says Proctor.
“With the introduction of the robotic line there is a whole range of associated automation equipment and materials of which Chesapeake are a provider”.
Lean and Environment
Working hard to reduce their impact on the environment across all areas of the factory, “we have a project team in the packaging area looking at reducing the amount of waste created by damaged packaging” says Proctor. And in terms of the packaging itself Thorntons are phasing out environmentally unfriendly plastics while sourcing more recyclable materials from sustainable sources.
This is part of their Lean activities scheme implemented throughout the factory. Through project activities involving improvements to the Enrobing Line, the Robotics Packaging, and the Flow of Packaging material, they have so far identified over £700,000 of potential savings.
With Lean initiatives and their production line efficiency they are reducing their waste, saving money and supporting environmental conservation.
The improvements to the packaging line has ensured their place as a dependable premium manufacturer focussed on getting their customers the best deal while supporting the development of their workforce into higher quality roles.
For Thorntons, it’s about maintaining their “wow!” factor and prolonging the finest standards at every level of their product. For those in favour of judging books by their cover, it goes without saying that the presented chocolate box has to reflect the excellence of the chocolates within it, and it seems that the boxes branded with the trademark Thorntons emblem on are still getting it right.