The company, established in 1997, produces handmade ready meals, which are sold across its 70 UK-wide stores, as well as franchises and concessions.
Output at Cook’s Kent-based savoury facility will double to 500,000 units after an investment of £1M to increase the capacity of the 3,251m² site to cope with increased demand, said Mark Dennis, Cook’s operations director.
A further £1M investment will see the £42M turnover company’s Somerset dessert facility rebuilt. The new facility will occupy 929m² of space and produce 20,000 desserts a week, he said.
More than 500 staff are currently employed by the company, 200 of whom work in the two factories.
Cook makes a virtue of its handmade approach to the production of ready meals, which relies on staff to prepare, cook and pack them, Dennis explained.
Many food manufacturers aim to reduce human contact on their production lines for cost, efficiency and food safety reasons. In contrast, however, Cook uses large numbers of staff on its lines.
“I think automation in certain businesses plays its part and it’s hugely successful for them. But for a business like ours, it’s not a path we would choose to go down as we rely heavily on people,” he said.
However, Dennis’s views are at odds with predictions reported in the September issue of Food Manufacture that future food factories would rely less and less on human intervention.
Removing people from factory environments has many advantages, as they are a main source of contamination, said Craig Leadley, a novel food processing specialist with Campden BRI.
Reduce the risks
“Removing personnel would reduce the risks of the introduction of pathogens and offers the potential to operate the factory in conditions that are unfavourable for the growth of pathogens, eg very low temperatures,” he said.
Factory efficiency would also be dramatically improved through the use of automation and IT solutions, Leadley added.
However, automation at Cook would not make any of its processes more efficient, claimed Dennis.
“By the time you put loads of depositors in, fill them up, have people operate them and then clean them down again, we could have an entire batch dished by hand,” he said.
Read our Me and My Factory interview with Dennis in October’s Food Manufacture magazine.
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