Commended Factory in the South West sponsored by CIGNA Employee Benefits.
When it opened in 1960, Birds Eye Wall's Gloucester factory was the world's biggest single producer of ice cream - as well as, of course, the most modern. Occupying 74 acres, it is still a sizeable establishment, one of the largest to enter this year's competition. Its production statistics are on a suitably grand scale: 110,000 tonnes of ice cream per year, 200 million 'cones' (ie, frozen lollipops), 5,500 tonnes of frozen desserts such as Viennetta and Romantica. Just one Cornetto? Gloucester makes them at the rate of around 87 million a year.
The manufacturing challenge is equally large. Few businesses are more seasonal - or more unpredictable. Demand may shoot up 14-fold in a heat wave, and collapse just as spectacularly when the mercury falls again. Birds Eye Wall's strategy has been to stake out a position at the top of the market with strong brands, and to avoid price competition by other means wherever possible. Viennetta, for example, is manufactured by a patented process that was developed in Gloucester.
But competition among the big brands is fierce nevertheless. Hence the squeeze on labour costs that has shrunk the wages bill to around 15% of total costs. Productivity has tripled in the past 10 years. Now the focus has switched to other areas, notably raw material yield and energy. As general manager John Hazelwood points out, an increase in yield of one half of 1% may not sound much, but soon adds up to a lot of money on a line that produces 450 best-selling Magnums a minute. Reject product is carefully segregated for re-mixing. Thus scrapped Viennettas are turned into Feast lollies.
Product development times are shrinking, too, as the market undergoes a post-Haagen-Dazs step-change in sophistication. One product rushed out this summer broke all speed records, and saw laboratory-based technicians helping to instal equipment in the factory. In a market where a third of all new products survive for just one year flexibility of that kind is needed to defend Birds Eye Wall's brand-based business.
Activity: Manufacture of ice cream and sugar cones
Task: To supply highly seasonal branded confectionery to a demanding customer base
Size: 960 people
Outstanding Features: Process technology, quality control.