Commended Factory in Wales sponsored by Development Board for Rural Wales.
'We've never been made to think of ourselves in the way that the audit questionnaire asked us to,' confessed general manager Chris Hughes. 'We're quite nervous.' He needn't have been. In what is still a very conservative industry, the Whitbread brewery at Magor, Gwent, stands out from the crowd. The plant, which produces the range of British beers, plus lagers such as Stella Artois and Heineken, dates from the late 1970s. In those days substantial growth was forecast for sales of lager, and Whitbread judged that existing brewing capacity would not be enough.
The 58-acre site near Newport offered access to the M4 motorway and to ample supplies of clean water - up to two million gallons a day are required. It had the further attractions of grant aid, and a ready supply of labour in an area that had been heavily dependent on coal and steel.
From the outset, a lot of attention was given to industrial relations. 'In 1978, single-status employment conditions, a single-union agreement and no separate craft negotiation rights were considered very innovative - especially here,' recalls Hughes. Twenty and more years later, changes in the brewing industry brought about by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission forced Magor to look again at its cost base and operating procedures.
Today, thanks to very thorough benchmarking exercises, Hughes knows for sure that these, plus state-of-the-art brewing equipment, have enabled the plant to achieve its objective of being the lowest-cost producer of beer within Whitbread - and very possibly within the UK, too.
Mixed teams of operatives and craftsmen have been set up, with merged responsibilities for production, quality and engineering. The plant now works six-and-a-half days with rostered shifts instead of five days on three shifts. These changes account for a 26% increase in productive capacity and a 24% fall in middle management numbers. 'Forget the image of the master brewer,' says technical manager Robin Cooper. 'With mixed teams, we now have beer brewed by former engineering supervisors.'
Regional Award: Wales
Sponsor: Development Board for Rural Wales
The Development Board for Rural Wales provides a unique range of business services to enhance the prosperity and growth of the region's manufacturing companies. Practical solutions and support are available throughout rural Wales for a wide range of business needs and problems, from achieving quality standards to developing export markets. First-class business premises and business support programmes already provide an excellent environment for many growing companies.
Task: Low-cost supply of canned and kegged lagers and ales
Size: 367 employees
Outstanding Features: Mixed teams, production planning, quality control.