Aim: The family-owned business needed to invest in its three sites in Haydock, North West England, and maintain its high standard of manufacturing products in the dry powder sector
What: A new agglomeration facility and a new pouch packing line
When: From 2004 to 2011
Aimia Foods is the company behind some of the best known powdered drinks in the UK. It has developed many of its own brands or produced brands under license including No Fear, Galaxy Hot Chocolate, Weightwatchers Hot Chocolate and Café Nueva.
It supplies 548 customers in a raft of sectors including retail, foodservice, cash and carry and vending markets. The company has a workforce of 260 staff and a turnover of £60m.
The family firm was founded in 1981 by Gary and Ian Unsworth and was bought by Nicholls in 1986. By November 2004, the company was back in family hands and, in the same year, the company expanded into a second site near its Haydock plant. “We cover a very broad supply of pack formats and ingredients at our main site,” explains Aimia Foods managing director Rob Unsworth. “We can pack hot chocolate, coffee, soups and milk powders into sticks, sachets, composites, bags, pouches, cups and retail jars.”
In 2007 a third site was built, specifically for a “global blue chip client” according to Unsworth. “It was a site that was designed for their requirements and we operate a sophisticated high speed operation for them.” In 2010 the company secured a UK first – a continuous agglomeration facility, created in a bid to strengthen its dry powder processing capabilities. According to the firm, by creating granules (or agglomerates) from powders, the facility can “ensure a free flowing, dust-free process which provides benefits to the trade and consumers alike”. But the company was keen to explore another area and embarked on installing a pouch packing line.
According to Unsworth, pouch packing represented a good opportunity for Aimia Foods with formats such as coffee bags and eco refill-style packs on the rise. Although he declines to reveal the supplier, he said that the team of engineers ensured that the installation was smooth. In addition, the line incorporates an x-ray machine to detect foreign bodies such as glass, which cannot be detected by traditional metal detectors.
While the equipment itself has made a difference to the efficiency of the operation, Unsworth believes that it’s the people at Aimia that ensure the firm operates like a well oiled machine. The company works to the Six Sigma and Kaizen processes, which means that the firm is looking to continuously improve its manufacturing operation.
“We are constantly upgrading sites but we also invest on the people side,” he adds. “We look to recruit and retain the best possible staff and we’ve created a very special people culture. Everyone is fully trained to exceptionally high standards in food safety and hygiene. In total we have 27 production lines and we have live output and efficiency reporting on each one.” That level of visibility means, according to the company, it can avoid potential bottlenecks and problems on the production lines.
A year ago Aimia Foods gained another piece in the jigsaw – a British Retail Consortium Grade A star audit. As far as Unsworth is aware, Aimia is the only food and beverage company to attain the accreditation which, he says, was achieved following an unannounced visit from the auditors.
The years of investment and striving for continuous improvement paid dividends last month when it scooped four awards at the 2012 Best Factory Awards. It beat off competition from 100 UK manufacturers including some blue chip giants. It won the top prize in the overall best factory, best SME, best household and general products plant and best people management categories.
While the people policy has reaped rewards, the investment strategy is also set to continue. Unsworth has been impressed with the new pouch packing system and is currently considering installing a second line.