Taylors of Harrogate invests for tea time

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Brewing up new investment: John Hennighan
Brewing up new investment: John Hennighan

Related tags: Tea

Yorkshire-based Taylors of Harrogate is steeped in history, but that hasn’t stopped the firm from investing in facilities, factory manager John Hennighan tells Nicholas Robinson

Key points

Over the past five years Taylors of Harrogate has grown from being the fourth largest bagged black-tea producer in the UK to the third. We currently have 16% of the market, behind Unilever’s PG Tips brand and Tata’s Tetley brand.

Yorkshire Tea is our flagship tea brand and is produced at this 14,000m² site in Harrogate. It's no secret that the black tea market is declining [UK sales have fallen by 6% since 2010]. There are a lot of products out there to distract consumers, but our market share has been growing.

There’s been a lot of investment here to support that growth and to support the growth in other parts of our £150M turnover company, which makes speciality teas, coffee and products for Betty’s [the online shop and tea room].

The company was founded in 1886 by Charles Taylor in Leeds and was always a tea blender, until we started coffee production a little later on. Back then it was normal to blend tea to specific water types – hard and soft. I think we’re the only company in the black tea market to still do that.

It was done because water would come from a local borehole, so its softness varied. Not like today; the only major difference in water type is when you go south past Watford, where the water gets harder. The water is soft in the north – bar a few pockets – so we ship hard water in from Catterick so the tea tasters can make the right tea blend for hard water.

I’ve been with Taylors for 14 years. I actually came here as a bit of a stop gap when I moved to the nearby town of Knaresborough with my then partner. The job as a production engineer came up, which is an advanced operator role, and I was lucky enough to get it.

After 18 months in the job I applied for the duty manager role within the speciality tea department and was lucky enough to get that and I then progressed to factory manager.

A career in food (Return to top)

A career in food manufacture wasn’t my original plan. I left school at 16 and worked for Associated Dairies in Leeds. Associated Dairies has since been bought by Arla. My first job was working in the fridge collating orders.

I didn’t start in the production side of things until I was in my late 20s when I got a job in quality assurance. It’s frustrating that a great career in food production was in front of me, but I didn’t decide on it until a little later on in my working life.

If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would be not to be scared to pursue one route in the industry. There’s so much diversity within food manufacture. That’s also the advice that I would give to anyone starting out in the food and drink industry. I would say, don’t be scared to pursue one area as early as possible.

There are lots of different areas of manufacturing to pursue within Taylors. We process tea and coffee and have a combined annual throughput of about 17,000t a year.

The processes for tea and coffee are very different. When tea comes in to the factory it will already have been dried and ground at source, so we just blend it in drums.

Ethical sourcing and production (Return to top)

In Yorkshire Tea, there's Kenyan, Rwandan and Assam tea, which gives it that nice richness and strong flavour. Our tea is ethically sourced and comes from all over the world from suppliers we’ve had relationships with for years.

Once it’s been blended it will be packed into tea bags on an Ima machine at a rate of 2,000 bags a minute, and we can do a box of 80 tea bags, for example, about every 2.4 seconds.

Tea is then taken to the packing machine and fed into it by gravity using a dosing head. The head contains eight pairs of apertures and they measure out a tea bag size – 3.125g worth of tea into each bag.

The paper to form the bags is fed from one end of the machine and is spliced down the middle so that one side of the paper goes to the dosing head to collect the tea and then the other meets it. It is then sandwiched before going through a crimp that bonds the two sides together using 200°C heat. At that point, you’re left with a very long line of tea bags that get cut into pairs and boxed.

We’ve recently invested in a new Ima tea packer, which cost about £1.3M and will allow us to produce our three tea pack sizes – 80 bags, 160 bags and 240 bags – more easily as the changeover time is reduced. We worked with Ima to ensure we could produce the different pack sizes with just a simple changeover.

On the speciality side, we bought a third machine from Techno Mechanica, which we use for string in bag teas. We got the new one in January and have worked hard with Techno Mechanica on some modifications.

Because speciality teas are made from sugar-containing ingredients, when they go through the machine they start to caramelise and so we were getting problems with the dosing heads. As a result, Techno Mechanica provided us with a bespoke cooling system on the head which is working really well for us.

We'll be looking to retrofit that on the other two lines, but we're going to do a full trial run before we commit.

Coffee production (Return to top)

Coffee arrives as a green bean and needs much more processing than tea. We screen it to make sure that twigs and stones are removed. Then we blend different varieties of green beans together before roasting. We do this to ensure there is the right weight of each bean in the blend before it is roasted and ground.

A roast usually takes between 12 and 13 minutes and once it reaches the intensity we need, it is discharged and quenched with a fine spray of water to stop the roasting process.

The roasted coffee is left in a tote for up to 18 hours before it is ground and packed. We leave it an hour before packing because we have to get the temperature down to at least 13°C.

From there it is moved onto our three packing machines. The beans are fed into nitrogen-cooled grinders using an auger (a screw in a tube). The ground coffee falls into the bags, which are sealed before a valve is affixed to let out excess oxygen. Each machine will produce 65 bags a minute.

We have plans in the next three to five years to invest further in the layout of our factory. We’ve done work to keep the flow of the facility – products in and products out – in one line.

The area where we accept deliveries will receive some investment in the coming years. Nothing has been finalised at the moment and there is a sum in mind, but I can’t say anymore about that just yet.

Listen to how Hennighan and his team found a simple solution to a complex problem in our podcast.

Personal (Return to top)

Name: John Hennighan

Job title: Factory manager

Age: 50

Domestics: I have three children

Outside of work: I’m an avid poker player and I like to spend as much time with my children as I can

Biggest achievement: Within work, it’s leading the successful projects that I have

Factory facts

Location: Taylors of Harrogate, Pagoda House, Plumpton Park, Harrogate HG2 7LD

Staff: 422

Products: Yorkshire Tea, speciality teas and coffee

Customers: The major multiples

Size: 14,000m²

Related topics: Drinks

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