Business as usual for Kraft coffee boss

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Coffee

Banbury plant director Christine Bense describes her current role as "the most fun and rewarding period of my working life".
Banbury plant director Christine Bense describes her current role as "the most fun and rewarding period of my working life".
While Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury has stirred up controversy, it’s been business as usual at Banbury, its biggest instant coffee plant in the world. That's according to plant director Christine Bense.

My last assignment before this was managing a strategic project at Kraft's global HQ in Northfield, Chicago. You don't get the people factor when you're doing that sort of work, so my first week here I'll never forget the feeling of being back in a plant.

I started off as a chemical engineer and went on to do further research after my Masters, but I found the day-to-day routine boring. I became a supervisor, because I said I wanted to work with people. That's why I have enjoyed managing over the past 13 years.

This is the largest instant coffee factory in Kraft globally. It's been here since 1965, having been built then on a greenfield site. It used to make desserts as well, but there was a big freeze dried coffee expansion here in 1995 and desserts were divested in 2005, so we became a core coffee factory then.

We supply more than 30 countries, but it makes sense for us to be the sourcing focus for the UK and France and the lion's share of what we produce goes to the UK.

Major investment

There had been no major investment here since 1995 until we announced the £16M investment in two packing lines, which are now in and running, and more processing areas last year. The production investment will give us the benefit of producing all the Kenco products. We will be able to produce and pack everything and the percentage we supply to the UK will go up. It's only because we can't make everything for Kenco that we supply other countries.

Our intent is to become self-sufficient in supporting the local market. At the moment we import about 7,000t of coffee a year that we don't have the capacity to produce.

The processing project is now underway and will be finishing in November. We designed a new coffee jar for Kenco and this is currently the only factory with the line capability of running that jar.

The other line is for our new refill pack. It used to be packed at a French co-packer until last year, then we brought it in-house in December. 25% of all Kenco is in the refill format now. We have three high speed jar lines in total, plus an assortment of smaller lines in the packing area.

The next big infusion of capital will help us cope as coffee consumption continues to go up. Next year, Kraft is starting coffee expansion in Russia, for example.

Fine ground coffee

In terms of new products, we have just launched Milicano, which is a whole bean instant coffee, closer to roasted and ground coffee in terms of mouthfeel and flavour. It's basically very fine ground coffee. It will be produced initially in Germany for the UK, but we aim to bring production over here.

Everything produced here goes to DHL depots in Bicester for distribution. Everything that's imported comes directly here. In terms of warehousing we moved everything to DHL three years ago.

Coffee procurement is outside of our remit. Our procurement people are based in Switzerland, where 75% of the world's commodities get traded.

Kenco has had a very successful three years environmentally with its transition to Rainforest Alliance accreditation and the introduction of the refill pack, which uses 97% less packaging than previously. Even our jars now use 7% less glass.

We have launched two major initiatives in the factory in the past few years. One of those is our continuous improvement programme, involving lean techniques such as 6 Sigma and 5S. We have been making an effort to shift from fire-fighting to a proactive approach to maintenance, analysing things such as the ways systems can fail and the frequency of failure. It involves a more robust approach to asset care and takes time and effort.

We're a year and a half into the programme now and we're just starting to see the benefits. We are the plant in Kraft Foods' global business that uses the most energy, but we used 2% less in 2010 compared to 2009 and we're aiming for a 7% reduction this year. We also cut water use by 10%, as we did last year. 10 years ago, I wouldn't have been surprised if the average operator wouldn't have even thought about energy or water or even switching things off. From 2005 onwards this factory has invested more than £4M in energy reduction initiatives.

We bring in green coffee beans and process them. What's left are the spent grounds and we burn these in two combined heat and power (CHP) boilers to produce energy. We generate our own power on site and export that to Banbury. We also have an effluent treatment plant, where we generate biogas. We are finding a way to use this as one of our key sustainability goals.

Sustainable Technology

We have made a huge investment in sustainable technology, including mechanical vapour recompressors (MVRs) [which are used to capture and reuse heat from steam in processing]. The CHPs and MVRs are our two big green investments over the past two years.

The thing about lean is that rather than investing in new pieces of equipment, it's about how we improve focus at all levels. The 5S stuff is about organising workspace and reducing variation.

We are proud of what we have accomplished. Our three year plan now involves continuing to maintain best practice. We have more 6 Sigma black belts [lean specialists] than we have had before and we have a yellow belt NVQ programme. In the next few years we want to use that core of trained people to invest in something that impacts on us and the business. We are miles ahead in terms of training investment and to continue building on that is definitely a priority.

Water has had less focus than energy and there's more low hanging fruit in water that we aim to go after. We also aim to send zero waste to landfill by the end of the year to avoid costs and turn waste streams into revenue.

We had a fire last year​, but it caused very little damage. Coffee grounds accumulated on top of a tank in the processing area and they were the only thing that caught fire. Employees couldn't reach the hoses to put it out themselves, so they called the fire service.

This did nothing but reinforce our health and safety procedures. We have launched a workshop on site around incident investigation and reporting. It's a great example of where staff engagement is paying off.


Location: Kraft Foods, Ruscote Avenue, Banbury, OX16 2QU

Staff: 500, including less than 10% agency

Factory size: 17ha of land, 11.7ha roofed

Operating hours: 24/7

Products: Kenco; Maxwell House, which is our global brand; Milicano and Carte Noire brands. We also pack Jacobs, which is our German brand, and Gevalia, our Swedish brand, here. About 15% of everything that we produce is for the 'out of home' (foodservice) market, which for us is skewed towards vending occasions, and a further 15% is for retailers' labels.

Output: 11bn servings a year


Name: Christine Bense

Age: 37

Career highlights: "This assignment has been the most fun and rewarding period of my working life that I have ever had being able to walk in here for the past two and a half years and define the roadmap, then switch to delivering it. To look back and know we're going to be achieving everything we promised is just great."

Domestics: "I'm married with two children, aged three and six."

Outside work: "I enjoy running and kick boxing."

Related topics: People & Skills, Drinks

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