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.