Automation behind Urban Eat sales growth

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags London

Food Partners is to invest in automation at its sandwich factory in north London. This "intelligent option" retains the flexibility of its operations, according to its factory manager Wes Jenkins.

The move is part of a wider investment programme, which includes resurfacing the flooring and upgrading refrigeration. The aim is to raise production and grow the firm's Urban Eat brand, which press reports claim is currently worth around £50M.

The facility, off London's North Circular Road in Wembley, is one of five Food Partners sites that serve foodservice and retail customers. Together, they make and distribute 2M sandwiches every week, as well as a range of fresh salads, prepared fruit and vegetables.

Food Partners is part of the Adelie Foods group, which recently received an injection of capital from India Hospitality Corporation Global Foods. Food Partners' other sites are located near Heathrow Airport, Middlesbrough and Kilmarnock in Scotland. It also has a prepared fruits, salads and vegetables facility, called Superior Foods, based in Southall, Middlesex.

The Wembley factory currently makes 600,000 sandwich packs a week but Jenkins reckons this can be raised to about 800,000 a week "without too many issues".

In the last few years, the factory has invested in ultrasonic cutters with turntables. It has upgraded its cardboard packing and bread packing machines, and installed the latest ink jet coding equipment.

"There is a constant programme of improvement that we have in place in terms of the automation side of the business and that's not just us but across the whole group,"​ added Jenkins. "Automation is very much on the agenda of our business, because it is a very labour intensive one."

The site manufactures around 440 stock keeping units a day, said Jenkins: "So we need a lot of flexibility because we are handling a lot of varieties of product: cardboard packs, to plastic packs and the flow-wrap items.

"We don't have any fully automated lines. However, we have invested significant funds over the past few years and we still have a plan for further machinery to be purchased to automate where we think it is right."

Jenkins added: "We are talking about intelligent options here where we can retain the flexibility, make sure that we can automate but also get the utilisation out of the equipment as well."

Related topics Chilled foods

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