Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Walkers Bradgate Bakery

Activity: Manufacture of pre-prepared sandwiches

Task: Assembly and overnight delivery of pre-packed sandwiches to supermarket chains under strict hygiene and temperature controls

Complexity: Low

Size: 400 employees

Outstanding Features: Impressive pace, process monitoring, product development, logistics

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 £25 million 'and is expected to double in five years'. This growth will come partly from expansion in the pre-repared sandwich sector (£350 million per year now, and forecast to exceed £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. Hygiene and cleanliness are of paramount importance. While still in their outer packaging, the sandwich ingredients are carefully dipped in food-grade antiseptic before being passed through the hatch into the positive air pressure 'high care' food pre-paration area.

Fillings - such as egg mayonnaise and chicken tikka - are mixed in a pre-assembly area, then stored in a carefully chilled room ready for collection by the 'servicers' who have the task of making sure the lines are kept topped up with ingredients. 'The whole layout has been designed around people flow and product flow,' explains Simkins - an observation swiftly confirmed by watching a changeover.

Sandwich manufacture at this speed is necessarily a messy business, so the belt must be cleaned in between each run of sandwiches. The servicers bring sprays and cleaning equipment, and each sandwich filler cleans a portion of belt as it passes. Materials for the next run have started coming through while the fillers at the further end of the line are still cleaning-up after the previous batch. Some 80 varieties of sandwich are produced each day.

Devising new varieties is the job of development chef Andy Phillips, who is appropriately attired in chef's hat and accoutrements.

It's a testament to his skill at the sandwich board that the judges tucked in with gusto, even after a day spent watching thousands of his creations being assembled.

Household & General Award - Sponsor: Lansing Linde

Lansing Linde is the UK subsidiary of Linde, the world's largest manufacturer of materials handling equipment. The group has modern manufacturing plants in Germany, France and the UK, which in total produce the widest range of materials handling equipment on the market. This comprehensive range of equipment is available through Lansing Linde's own local companies covering all the UK. The network provides local support, including service, parts, rental, financial options, warehouse planning and fleet management.

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