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Sweet sensation

By Gary Scattergood , 04-Dec-2012
Last updated on 04-Dec-2012 at 17:17 GMT

The Mondelez site produces 40,000t of sweets a year

The Mondelez site produces 40,000t of sweets a year

It's all about the brands for Mondelēz International, reports Gary Scattergood

I am a chartered and electronic engineer with a specialism in communication systems, which probably seems a long way from making Jelly Babies. However, I joined the company's graduate trainee scheme in 1994 and have been here ever since.

The site here in Sheffield is split into three factories. We have the mints factory, which transferred to this site in 1990 and makes Trebor Soft Mints and Extra Strong Mints; we have a factory that makes Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts and, in the third one, we make jellies, including a wide range of iconic brands such as Jelly Babies, Wine Gums, Sports Mix, Midget Gems, the Natural Confectionery range and, most recently, our new member of the family: Sour Patch Kids.

We'll be introducing a fourth factory early next year to make Oreo and Belvita biscuits, creating 20 jobs. These brands are established in Europe and UK supplies are currently sourced from our factories on the continent. It's a fantastic demonstration of the faith Mondelz International [the name given to Kraft Foods' snacking arm from October] has in Sheffield.

Over the last few months we've been focused on the Sour Patch Kids' brand. These are jellies with a sour coating. We started physically making them in July ahead of its launch in October. This is an enormously popular product in the US and Canada and we have high hopes for them here.

The fact that we made this happen in Sheffield, and did so quickly, was testament to the operational strategy we have in place and also the level of collaboration we enjoy with our research and development colleagues in Europe and the US. We were able to tweak the formulation to meet all our regulatory requirements and use the firm's operational knowledge to start production very quickly.

The actual product, before it is coated, is not too dissimilar to some of the Natural Confectionery products we make. Because we organise the plant along clear lines we didn't need any new equipment, we just had to make a new mould, which is relatively simple. We did have to make some improvements, though. We took a group of our people and said: this is coming, this is great news, but we need to get more out of this machine, tell us what we need to do. We left them alone and saw the performance rise.

The team's improvements with Sour Patch Kids fit with my philosophy that this plant is 80% about people and 20% about processes. Our workforce has so much energy it would be daft not to give them the opportunities to create solutions. It is something we are doing more of, and at all levels. It is important to invest in technicians as well as operators because they provide the DNA that flows through this plant. We have told them we don't necessarily want them to just fix things, but we also want them to tell us how we can get an extra 10% out of a piece of machinery. Also, we are giving the managers the freedom to run their own areas.

In addition, it is vital we nurture new talent and we now are in the second year of our apprenticeship scheme. It was the first time we had done this since the 80s, but the value we are seeing shows it is the right thing to do. I started on the graduate programme in 1994 something that is still going strong today and it's a fantastic way of seeing the business in all its glory.

I've been in this role for two-and-a-half years and, for me, this is a perfect job because I like working with people and I get to work with a very high-calibre team. When I took the role on, the plant strategy was already clear. The first pillar is to create the capability to respond to the growth in demand. We are a brands business and we have some very iconic and strong brands. Secondly, we deliver all we can through our people and, thirdly, we support the sustainability agenda that has been laid down.

The business has decided we will reduce our energy and waste water by 15% so this has really sharpened our focus. It's a compelling business issue and something our customers see as important.

We have a huge motor that coats our Soft Mints, so we have reduced the cycle time and therefore the amount of energy used per tonne. Secondly, when you make a jelly, it starts as a syrup and goes into a big oven to cook away the moisture and give it the chew. We are researching ways to formulate the products so they need less cooking, which will lead to fewer stoves and less energy being used. These are two big projects, which are being supported by smaller ones. This will reduce our energy use by around 40%. It will be a real game changer.

This site works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so even the smallest changes can have a big impact in terms of sustainability. To give you an idea of the production process of our jellies, we boil up a syrup, deposit it into a starch mould and put it into the stove. A Jelly Baby is cooked for around 16 hours, a wine gum for around 24 hours and a Sports Mix for around 48. We then chill it, tip it out of the mould and, if needs be, send it through the coating process before it is packed.

We produce around 40,000t a year, with jellies making up about 23,000 of that total. About 80% of our products are for the UK market.

We always need to be ready to respond to growth in demand. We saw some great volume gains on mints this year as the result of our Unwrap Gold Olympic promotion, which gave consumers the chance to win tickets. The team usually decides how to meet increases either by tweaking hours or splitting shifts.

The Sheffield site has had several changes of ownership over the years, but I'd say the impact on employees of Kraft's purchase in 2010 was negligible.

The name might have changed, but the jobs and ethos didn't. This place will only ever be about the brands and the people, and that will continue to be the case long after I've gone.

Factory facts

LOCATION: Mondelz International (Formerly known as Kraft Foods), Livesey Street, Sheffield

STAFF: 550

SIZE: 72,000m2

OPERATING HOURS: 24 hours a day, seven days a week

PRODUCTS: Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts and Jelly Babies, Trebor Extra Strong Mints and Soft Mints, Maynards Wine Gums, Sports Mix, Midget Gems and Sour Patch Kids and the Natural Confectionery range

OUTPUT: 40,000t a year

Personal

NAME: Ian Dearn

AGE: 43

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: "Leading the gum and candy manufacturing agenda in southern Africa."

DOMESTICS: "Married to Jane, with a daughter, 12, and a son, 10."

OUTSIDE WORK: "I have a season ticket at West Bromwich Albion and I'm a keen runner. I recently completed my first half marathon."

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