Me and My Factory

How would you spend £14M at a drinks plant?

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

Coca-Cola boss Jane Buckley reveals her £14M investment plans
Coca-Cola boss Jane Buckley reveals her £14M investment plans

Related tags Bottle

Coca-Cola Morpeth’s operations director Jane Buckley reveals how she is overseeing an investment of £14M at the plant.

As operations director here at Morpeth, I have been tasked with overseeing a £14M investment that effectively doubled production while rebuilding part of the factory from scratch. It has proved to be the most challenging, yet rewarding, project I’ve ever worked on.

The site is responsible for producing Coca-Cola European Partners’ (CCEP’s) two leading UK water brands – Glacéau Smartwater and Schweppes Abbey Well.

We actually have a semi-artesian well on site, from which Abbey Well is produced. A semi-artesian well means the water doesn’t fully make the surface, so we have to pump it out for the final part of its journey. Under the terms of the licence all Abbey Well water has to come from this well.

The focus of the £14M project was the installation of a new automated water-processing and bottling line, which has trebled the site’s existing production capabilities, from 18,200 to around 54,000 bottles an hour. A further £2.5M was spent on upgrading the boilers and compressor systems.

Approval for the project was given in July 2015, and within 10 months we’d gone from the board decision to the first bottle coming off the line, which was a staggering achievement.

Beset with weather problems (back to top)

While the build took place, we were beset with weather problems, from the very cold temperatures that prevented the adhesive setting on the tiles, to severe floods in the area that led to some electrical contractors having to leave the site to restore power elsewhere.

To put it into context, we went from having around five contractors a week on site, to around 120140 contractors on the premises every day.

Factory facts

LOCATION:​ Coopies Lane Industrial Estate, Morpeth, Northumberland. NE61 6JF

SIZE:​ 7,800m2

STAFF:​ 32, plus six fixed-term contracts.

MAIN PRODUCTS:​ Glacéau Smartwater, Schweppes Abbey Well Still and Sparkling.

CUSTOMERS:​ Retailers, wholesalers, licensed trade and foodservice.

PRODUCTION LINES:​ One high-speed, automated water-processing and bottling line.

PRODUCTION SPEED:​ 54,000 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles an hour.

TOTAL FACTORY OUTPUT:​ More than10M cases a year.

But for me, the most wonderful stat was that there were 80,000 man-hours on the project, and we completed it with just four minor incidents. We’re talking nothing more than four plasters – which has to be the safest project I’ve known in my career.

While all of this was taking place, I had to maintain the old production lines and achieve a 25% volume uplift for Smartwater, which was significant for the site.

I have to admit that when I joined CCEP in 2014, I thought I might be bored – but what a terrible assumption that was. In fact, career-wise, I think it has been the best decision I’ve made.

When I started out, I wanted to be a nurse. Unfortunately, as I was about to go off to college, by father was diagnosed with cancer. It meant my parents were unable to support me, so I ended up working for Palethorpes.

Camaraderie of working in a factory (back to top)

My first job involved putting frozen sweetcorn on pizzas, and I thought the world had ended. However, after a while I began to enjoy the camaraderie of working in a factory. I stayed there for 10 years, and worked my way up to night-shift manager.

After a brief stint at a biscuit factory, I joined Heinz as manufacturing manager at its Telford site, which makes sauces and condiments.Culturally, it was a great site to work at, and I had some fantastic management training there that has stayed with me.

The training started by focusing on how we acted as individuals in a group setting. By the end of day one, when my list of attributes was far more negative than positive, I felt pretty destroyed.

But soon I realised it was a great way of showing how the world looks at you, and what you can do to address that perception. As an example, when I’m listening to people, I tend to frown at them. So now I tell staff, ‘look, I’m going to frown at you, but it’s nothing personal – I’m just listening’.

After three years at Telford, in a role that covered production and engineering, I moved to Heinz’s factory in Kitt Green, Lancashire. There, it was just about making soup, and it wasn’t long before I realised I preferred a role with more breadth, so eventually I moved to jam and jelly maker Hartley’s in Histon, Cambridgeshire.

Before going there, the recruitment lady warned me that the person I would work for was a bit odd. Well, I’m probably going to regret saying this, but I’m a bit of a strange fish myself, so I thought it sounded perfect. As it turned out, we got on like a house on fire, and I had a fantastic four years there.

Different style to most directors (back to top)

I have a very different style to most directors. Yes, there are times when I have to be dictatorial and hold people to account. But at the same time, I’m a good listener and reader of people.

One of my key roles here is to develop my team to the point where if I move on, no one will notice me gone. Having a team of just 38 here means staff are expected to have a rounded knowledge, and help each other out. So, instead of trying to spin five plates each, there’s six of them spinning 36 plates – but efficiently. That’s what makes Morpeth different to most sites.

Factory-wise, we’ve moved into phase two, which has been about bringing the filling line up to the magical 54,000 bottles an hour mark. We have now commissioned all products on the line, including a new 850ml sports cap format for Smartwater and a new lightweight twist cap range for Abbey Well.

I expect we’ll move to a third phase, eventually. There’s a lot of excitement about the water market, and I think once CCEP has a grip of where the potential is, they’ll decide what’s next for us.

Under current growth projections, we’ve got sufficient capacity on the line to 2019–20. Although the site is small, there are no restrictions to us expanding on it, if that’s what the business needs us to do.

I’m under no illusion that I’m very lucky to be in charge of manufacturing products in a market where there’s so much potential. I think the Morpeth site has a great future.

Watch Jan Buckley reveal more about what she learned from her management training and how she applies it to her workforce in our exclusive video interview.


NAME:​ Jane Buckley

AGE:​ 44

DOMESTICS:​ Married, with three children and a dog.

OUTSIDE WORK:​ I play badminton and chess. I like cycling particularly – the mountain biking bit when you’re on a downhill slope and terrified.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT:​ Aside from marrying the person that I love, my greatest achievement has to be building the factory next door. It has been the most invigorating, stretching, challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF:​ Work hard and listen. Always be willing to learn – every day is a school day, no matter how old you are.

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