Magazine article Management Today

Walkers Bradgate Bakery

Magazine article Management Today

Walkers Bradgate Bakery

Article excerpt

Consider the manufacturing challenge posed by the humble sandwich. Widely diverging components (no two lettuce leaves or tomato slices are the same) must be assembled, by hand, under conditions of impeccable hygiene. Nor are the vital constituents likely to be as easily workable as cheese and pickle. In today's lunchtime market, sandwiches major on the exotic, with Chinese and Indian fillings much in evidence - along with vegetarian, dietary and flavour-of-the-month specialities. Further, inspection standards are difficult to define - even though customers such as Tesco have their own very clear idea of what they want. Finally the product has a limited shelf life, and needs to be on supermarket shelves around the country by 8 am next morning.

Walkers Bradgate Bakery, situated on the outskirts of Leicester, is part of the privately-owned Samworth Brothers foods group (the company's better known pork pie factory is next door) and has a corporate philosophy typical of such businesses.

'Profit is important to us, we walk away from a lot of business,' says managing director Andrew Simkins. Nevertheless, construction of the sandwich factory was begun in 1992, following discussions between Tesco and Samworth managements, without any formal order having been placed.

Turnover has now reached [pounds]25 million 'and is expected to double in five years'. This growth will come partly from expansion in the pre-prepared sandwich sector ([pounds]350 million per year now, and forecast to exceed [pounds]2 billion by the year 2000), and partly from Walkers' practice of stealing business from competitors. On the day of the judges' visit, the factory was coping with a sudden 30% increase in volume stemming from the failure of a competitor.

Although the operation is by its very nature labour-intensive, the company has clearly invested heavily in order to meet the standards imposed by its customers. The judges were particularly impressed by the systems for air filtration, water chilling and sandwich blast chilling, all of which are housed in the roof space. Below, in the body of the factory, teams of people tend three conveyor lines, placing carefully weighed or measured quantities of each ingredient on slices of buttered bread as these flow past.

Some ingredients, such as chicken pieces, are bought in ready-made. Others need to be processed. Thousands of lettuces must be washed, trimmed and cut daily - only the outer leaves being used since the hearts go to pigs. …

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