Donut runner

Related tags Chocolate Cadbury

Donut runner
Me & my factory: Ross Macken, Factory Manager, Kitchen Range Foods

There are two Kitchen Range Foods factories. There's one next to our head office in Huntingdon, which makes savoury products like coated mushrooms and coated cheeses, and also fruit pies -- the sort you get in fast food outlets. And then we have the donuts factory in Peterborough, where I'm factory manager.

We used to make pies here too. But 18 months ago we launched Cadbury Mini Dipping Donuts, and that side of things has expanded so much that we've dedicated this site to donuts.

Kitchen Range Foods is owned by OSI, which is a $3bn global food business and a major supplier to McDonalds. Anywhere in the world where there are McDonalds restaurants you will find OSI factories supplying food products.

Our heritage in donut manufacturing was with McDonalds too, making large, cake-ring donuts -- the traditional American approach. It's not yeast-raised, it's cake-raised. We mix a batter and deposit it straight into the fryer, whereas a yeast-raised maker would form donuts into a proofer first. A lot of our equipment is American, too, because we want to be authentic.

Now we've moved into foodservice and especially into retail, McDonalds' business is less than a third of what we do. The Cadbury products probably account for a quarter of our production time. Competition in retail is tough and we have had to take a different approach with our products.

We started making a Cadbury donut for McDonalds two years ago, and that gave us the contacts within Cadbury itself to say we'd like to do retail products under their brand.

We tried various things and finally came up with Mini Dipping Donuts: 12 donuts in a clear pack with a branded card sleeve, with a pot of chocolate sauce and a pot of chocolate sprinkles inside. Like all our products, we supply them frozen for the retailer to defrost in-store.

Minis did really well in research, so we got Cadbury's approval and then went full pelt into launch. The product is perfect from a marketing point of view because it's about sharing and snacking, which is the way that everyone is going.

The big opportunity for us is 'owning' the mini-donut sector, and the Cadbury thing is opening that door for us. Where before we were doing own-label donuts for a couple of retailers, now we're in all of them.

One thing we learned was that if you use clear, acetate trays it conveys freshness. Deep down, of course, consumers know it's made in a factory, but if you put it in acetate they are 'happy to be part of the illusion'.

With the Cadbury product, a big difficulty was understanding the capabilities of in-store bakeries. We've had to tweak some things to make the product as easy as possible for the stores.

The whole idea of labelling it 'eat on day of purchase' was confusing for consumers, because they were used to best-before dates.

Within weeks, we knew we had to do some recoding and extend the shelf-life. So, a few magic ingredients later, we were able to give them three days, not one. And that also overcame the stores' reluctance to put stock out on the shelves. We also moved to a smaller case size so retailers could still merchandise in full cases during the slower parts of the week.

The big seller is the Milk Chocolate Dipping Donut. We also do Caramel and Crunchie versions, using different sauces and sprinkles.

This is our first 'finished pack'. The rest of our products go out in bags or boxes for assembly in-store. For some customers we pack sleeves, labels and trays into the case too, which saves them ordering up four different items.

But the investment in the Cadbury line means we can now offer other pre-packs too. The ultimate, as far as retailers are concerned, is something that can go straight on to the shelf but appears to have been freshly made in-store. So we're expecting a lot more business from that.

We originally had a donut line and a pie line at Peterborough. When we launched the dipping donuts we decided we should dedicate one of our lines to Cadbury. In May 2003 we stripped out the pie line and installed it at our Huntingdon factory, and we bought a second Belshaw donut fryer from the States and installed it here.

The fryer was one of the troublesome bits. We had tried something new -- a different flipping mechanism for turning the donut over -- and it didn't work. It was fine on Belshaw lines in the States, which are much bigger and faster. But in the end we had to admit defeat, and that meant the whole belt assembly had to be changed.

But the big investment went into the packaging machinery. What we couldn't do, particularly with a Cadbury product, was allow someone else to be involved in assembly.

We put in a packaging system that is pretty much fully automated. It denests the trays, places the pots of sauce and sprinkles, doses in the donuts, closes the lid, applies an anti-tamper label; converges the trays, sleeves them, checkweighs and metal-detects them and finally case-packs and codes them. And we can do up to 100 packs per minute like that.

It was designed and installed by Ishida, in conjunction with us. To help our operators to visualise how the machinery would be once installed in the factory we sent them out to look at the machines in action at the suppliers.

We had to shoe-horn a lot of complex machinery into a small space. All the stages are very close-coupled, and when you're making 100 packs a minute operators have got very little time to sort out a problem before it's backing up into someone else's machine. They've learned to move very fast.

When we started, nearly every machine was problematic; now we are down to two or three -- mainly the sleever and the denesters. With a year's experience we're a lot better at fixing them and knowing what goes wrong.

On the whole, Ishida did a good job. There aren't many people that could have put this together for us. And one thing I'd give them credit for: the bits of machinery that did not work, they stuck with it and sorted it out.

The best way to do a project like this is to do it turnkey. There were some bits of existing machinery that we asked Ishida to integrate, but they were responsible for delivering a working line. One of the bits of used machinery was particularly problematic, with hindsight we should have replaced it with a new machine. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

When we started, we needed to deliver a huge volume for all the pipeline fills as well as the retail sales. We built in some slack, but that was gone very quickly. We were trying to run the machines flat out, but the guys needed their tea breaks. So we'd come down from the office and actually operate the machines for them.

We've done a lot of work on teamwork over the past 15 months, starting with the senior managers. Before we started installing the Cadbury machinery, we had had a number of projects that had not gone as smoothly as they should. We had this new product to launch and we were not performing as a team. What were we going to do about it?

We first of all spent a day in the woods, north of Grantham, doing all sorts of team exercises and discussing why we had got them wrong. If things failed in the woods, that's why they'd fail in the factory.

Since then we've changed the way we approach team-working, and worked on understanding each other's personalities. I also took the team to North Wales to climb Snowdon, which was quite an experience. We tried to reach the top twice but failed both times as the weather was terrible. But we had great fun trying and it really helped the team to get to know each other better.

Now we've got the management team in shape from all points of view and we've started to work our way through the rest of the teams on site, which is going really well. The next objective for the team is to support the sales guys by getting new products out at competitive prices -- and to get this factory full.

Interview by Mick Whitworth


Name: Ross Macken Age: 36

Career highlights: Masters in electrical and electronic engineering. Joined Unilever as graduate. Then joined Kitchen Range Foods in 1996 as project manager, rising to production manager and factory manager.

Domestics: Married with two kids, and living in Bedford.

Outside work: "I do a lot of running. Twice a year I compete in the Tough Guy race at Wolverhampton: an eight-mile cross-country run followed by an assault course." Also drives a Westfield sports car that he built himself.

factory facts

Location: Kitchen Range Foods, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6XU.

Factory size: 2,500m2.

Main products: Mini and large ring donuts and mini balls, plain or with sugar and chocolate coatings, including Cadbury Mini Dipping Donuts.

Annual output: Around 4,000t.

Employees: 72.

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast