Best Factory audit visits occasionally throw up unexpected gems. J F Renshaw's 60,000 sq-ft factory, on an eight-acre site in a depressed area of Liverpool, is one such. It was not always so vibrant. Founded in 1898, Renshaw is one of the oldest names in British baking, and became well known for its dried almond and marzipan products. But by the late 1980s the business was in decay and substantial restructuring was required.
A new owner, a privately-owned German baking group, has invested heavily in the company, spending some £14 million in total. Money has been poured into machinery, rationalisation and new premises, and brought about considerable improvements in efficiency. The former plant in south London, which was hugely labour-intensive - since many of its processes were carried out by hand - has been closed down. As a result of automation, 24 people in Liverpool now produce more marzipan than 85 did in Mitcham. Overall, numbers have shrivelled from 500 to 200. Output has soared 30% since 1991, labour cost per tonne has declined by 37%, and absenteeism is down by a fifth.
Investment has also gone into development of new products to exploit the company's name and brand strength. The traditional almond and marzipan now generate just under 50% of sales, with cherries and various sugar pastes for cake decoration accounting for the greater proportion. New products are first launched under Renshaw's name, then, if successful, offered as own-label products to retailers. 'The margins are lower but the volumes are higher, and we can vary the ingredient mix to meet a price point,' explains MD Jeremy Hamer.
Flexibility of this kind is an important factor at Renshaw. The company insists on retaining its own distribution fleet, for example, in order to provide the level of service which it believes the market wants.
The results speak for themselves. 'This year, every Christmas cake on sale in the big multiple chains will have our marzipan on it,' says Hamer.
Regional Award: North West
BNFL, an international company based in northwest England and southern Scotland, makes a major contribution to the economy and employment sector both locally and nationally. Its successful track record in the nuclear fuel cycle services business is reinforced by a proven capability in the manufacture of fuel products, the transport and reprocessing of spent fuel, as well as the safe management of radioactive wastes.
BNFL is a quality-driven business backed by sustained investment in research and development, which is aimed at maintaining the company's technological lead in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Activity: Manufacture of nut and sugar pastes
Task: To supply branded pastes and own-label equivalents to bakeries and retail chains.
Size: 200 employees
Outstanding Features: Process technology, product development, quality control.