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By Gary Scattergood , 31-Oct-2012
Last updated the 31-Oct-2012 at 13:05 GMT

Poole's Pies of Wigan is determined to make a major splash, reports Gary Scattergood

My ambition is clear; I want Poole's to be operating to optimum capacity, which means we'd be producing 3.5M pies and 500,000 sausage rolls per week and supplying all the major retailers.

It's a big challenge, but I'm part of the management team that was brought in to grow the business after md Neil Court-Johnston (formerly of Northern Foods, Pork Farms, Holland's Pies and Peter's Pies) bought it from Wigan Athletic Football Club owner Dave Whelan, who retains a share in the businesses.

At the moment, we are only running one production line at our 300,000m2 factory across one shift, Monday to Friday, so we certainly have the potential for growth.

The initial signs are encouraging, though, and we have already started to supply Iceland with three new fruit pie and crumble products.

We also supply savoury pies to Asda, Morrisons, some foodservice outlets and stadia including Wigan Athletic, Hull City and St Helens Rugby Football Club. We will soon be supplying Tranmere Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Everton, too.

Discussions are taking place with all the major retailers with a view to starting, or increasing, supplies in the future, but we have identified fruit pies and crumbles as a key area of expansion.

This is largely responding to demand because there are relatively few fruit pie manufacturers in the UK, so the retailers are currently getting products from Europe, which can cause them supply and also quality issues.

We are talking to the retailers and listening to want they want, so we are working on new recipes and new product development, but this will be in addition to our longstanding, local recipes that go back many years.

These include our four and five-inch potato and meat, meat, chicken and mushroom, steak and kidney, steak and ale, beef and onion, butter (butter and potato) and cheese pies.

There is also a clear demand for own-label products, which is an increasing area of focus for us. This suits us because while we wouldn't struggle to sell Poole's Pies in Wigan, not too many people are aware of us outside the region.

Audits

Since I started here, it has been a very busy few months, especially with audits.

We've been through the British Retail Consortium (BRC) accreditation and are in the process of getting a grade A.

We have also been accredited by Morrisons and Iceland and we are about to go through the Tesco process too.

The technical hoops we have to jump through for audits are one of the biggest challenges we face as a business because each of the supermarkets has its own internal systems.

Our objective is to make sure we have all of the accreditations for the major retailers, so when the work comes in, we are ready to go.

It has been a hectic period since I joined Poole's, but I have plenty of experience in food manufacturing, which has really helped. I spent 17 years at Holland's Pies in Baxenden (near Accrington) where I worked my way up.

I did everything from working on the shop floor to machine minder, team leader, stock and dispatch manager, planning and supply chain manager and stand-in factory manager.

That experience, provided you've got the right people management skills, can really help you mould and shape a position like this.

For me, management is all about people and process. I'm very focused on process and I like order, but I know the key to any businesses is having the right people around you with the right attitude.

The staff at Poole's have worked here for many years, come from the local area, show great loyalty to the brand and have a passionate determination to maintain the quality of the products. They want things to be right first time and are very proud of what they are producing, which really helps me.

Production starts when the raw materials arrive from our accredited suppliers. For our savoury products, the first task we have to do is tprep the raw meat.

There are several regimes the guys need to work through to ensure it is to specification in terms of things like the fat content that we have agreed with the supplier. They also check there are no inclusions before they dice it to the recipe required for the particular products.

Production to packing

The meat and vegetables which we buy from a local supplier are then seasoned, following our secret recipe, and put into cooking vessels. They are then cooked and cooled in same vessel before it is ready for the production line.

The production line will make the pastry and bring the filling to the line to mix the products. This is where the process starts for the fruit pies because we buy the fillings ready prepared. The pies are then made to the required guidelines and the weight is checked.

We then make sure all the temperatures are recorded and the relevant traceability paperwork is completed.

It then comes off the line and into the glaze before it's put into one of the spiral freezers for around 60-70 minutes, depending on the density of the product.

After that, it goes straight to packing where it's boxed, put on a pallet and into one of the cold stores on site. We then hold it until it's required by our customers and usually despatch it from site in our own vehicles.

We are increasingly using local suppliers more and more in order to help the local economy. As we grow, we want them to grow too.

Economic climate

While we know where we want to be, we also know we are up against it from a retail point of view because of the current economic climate.

It's usually the case that if you get into a supermarket, it is because they are favouring one product over another and taking out the incumbent. If they are happy with the incumbent, then you've got to improve on quality or price to even get close.

That said, due to the early success we've had, the signs are promising.

Md Neil Court Johnston is very driven, as we all are, and we are very clear on where we want to be and when. We know we have a winning team to move the business on further.

In addition to the increased production, sales and profits, if we can get to a point where we can fill the capacity we have in the businesses, we would also be able to create and extra 150-200 jobs in the local community. The opportunities we have here really are immense.

Factory facts

Location: Poole's Pies, Kilshaw Street, Pemberton, Wigan, WN5 8EA

Staff: 30 in the factory and 10 in the office

Size: 300,000m2

Operating hours: One shift, Monday to Friday. 6am to 2pm for production and 7am to 3pm for packing

Products: Frozen pies (savoury and sweet), sausage rolls and fruit crumbles.

Output: 50,000 per week

Annual Turnover: £3M

Personal

Name: David Rawstron

Age: 44

Career Highlight: "Being made operations manager here in June after spending 17 years at Holland's Pies."

Domestics: "I am married with five children, aged two to 17."

Outside work: "Like I have time for hobbies with five kids! I used to do martial arts and got my black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, but I haven't done it for a couple of years now."

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