Construction of the new 3,000m2 factory is expected to commence by July and come on stream in Easter 2014, according to the bakery’s md Mike Braddock. It will increase the bakery’s capacity from 1.7M loaves a week currently to 2.5M/week, he added.
The news follows Roberts sale of its gluten-free business Davies Bakery to US firm Boulder Brands earlier this month for £2.5M.
The new facility, which will feature a high level of automated manufacture including bread tin and lid handling, will increase current staff numbers of 820 by about 50–80 people. Roberts has invested heavily over recent years in automating its processes, installing kit such as automated slicing, bagging and bag handling to raise its efficiency.
Northern competitor Warburtons
Braddock told FoodManufacture.co.uk that Roberts planned for “slower, steadier organic growth” and would not follow the example of its northern competitor Warburtons – the UK’s brand leader – by expanding its business into the south of the country.
The regional baker anticipates growing sales through existing multiple retail channels and convenience store outlets based on promoting the brand’s “high quality” credentials, said commercial director Tim Wild. He reported that value sales had increased by 22% and volume by 32% over the past three months.
“We’ve got a great product, which we will be taking to more areas and more people,” said Wild. As well as its core sliced white and wholemeal wrapped breads, Roberts is also launching a new range of soft white rolls and 50% wholemeal, 50% white rolls targeted at the children’s lunchbox market this summer.
About 40% of Roberts’ bread output goes into the UK sandwich sector, supplying companies throughout the UK.
The company has a confectionery arm, recently rebadged The Little Treats Co, a business worth around £15M a year and growing by £1M each year, said Braddock. It claims to be is one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of decorated gingerbread biscuits and also makes other sweet treats, including seasonal biscuits, chocolate clusters and Rocky Road bites.
Specialist bakery operation
Roberts also operates a small specialist bakery operation, Aldred’s The Bakers, based at Ilkeston in Derbyshire, which has also recently launched a new range of products.
To meet expected growth in demand from the convenience sector, Roberts plans to buy another four delivery vehicles, taking its total fleet to 50, added Wild.
Braddock claimed that Roberts had succeeded in managing soaring wheat costs over the past year by efficiency improvements and judicious forward purchasing based on good intelligence.
The bakery buys most of its wheat from Canada (which produces grain of particularly high protein content) and Germany, with a smaller amount sourced in the UK. He admitted, however, that one of his biggest challenges was in maintaining the high quality of Roberts’ bread against volatile global wheat costs and quality levels.
To meet demand for healthier products, Roberts had reformulated its bread to reduce levels of salt. While it had achieved the 2012 salt reduction targets across its range, Braddock admitted that further reductions would prove difficult.