I joined Clipper Teas in 2007, and have witnessed considerable changes in the business over the past 10 years.
Back then, turnover was about £18.5M, and sales mainly comprised standard black tea, which is made here in Beaminster, and instant coffee, which is produced off-site by another company.
After a period of little growth, the business really took off in 2012 when Dutch organic specialist Royal Wessanen bought Clipper from then owner Fleming Family & Partners.
Over the past five years we have more than doubled production, in part due to the growth of infusions and green tea, and the emergence of the more premium string and tag teabag.
Being part of Wessanen has also allowed us to develop overseas markets, and we have a strong presence in a number of European countries in which the company operates. With the added help of distributors, we now export to more than 50 countries globally.
As operations director of Wessanen UK, I am responsible for all of the company’s UK brands, which include Mrs Crimble’s cakes, Almond Breeze milk, and Whole Earth peanut butter.
Supply chain relationships (back to top)
I am, however, on this site at least two days a week, and I also manage the supply chain relationships right back to the tea growers, which means I travel extensively in Asia and Africa.
Prior to joining Clipper, I was a foundryman by trade, working in the aerospace industry. I was surprised and delighted to get headhunted for this job as I had no food experience at the time. I did, however, have processing experience and I would say that standards in aerospace and food are actually quite similar, when it comes to quality expectations.
One of my primary responsibilities here is managing investment into the site, which has been in the region of £10M in the past five years, and £5.5M this year alone.
Since 2012, we have replaced two production lines with faster models, and this year we’re adding a further three new lines, bringing the total to 10. Wessanen has a number of European tea brands, and the plan is to bring some of that manufacturing here.
- NAME: Mark Bagwell
- AGE: 50
- DOMESTICS: Married with five children and two grandchildren.
- OUTSIDE WORK: I’ve always enjoyed boxing and martial arts. I gained a black belt in karate two years ago, and I’m chairman and secretary of the local club. I’m also a governor at St Mary’s Academy in Beaminster.
- GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: It has to be securing permission for change of land use at this site. The local plan was only adopted a few months before we started the process, so it took us a lot of work to convince the council to allow the land to be used for housing.
- ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF: Have confidence in yourself and your style. The mistakes I’ve made in my career have come when I’ve tried to be someone other than myself. If you’re successful because of who you are, then be who you are. Learn new habits by all means, but you shouldn’t have to learn to be someone new.
The main project currently running alongside that is our new factory, which we are building on the other side of the main road. Previously, there were two separate office blocks over there, and together with the buildings on this side, we’ve been operating within seven separate areas.
As you can imagine, this hasn’t been very efficient for the business. In fact, we employ a full-time van operator just to move stock between the buildings. We worked out that the stock moves an average of 32 times, and he drives 1km a day.
Improving efficiency (back to top)
We’ve been able to undertake the project after being granted permission from West Dorset District Council to change the land use on this side of the road, meaning we can sell it for housing development.
The land was earmarked for employment only, but we managed to show the council that relocating across the road was in the best interests of Beaminster. It means both jobs and production have been secured for the long term.
We hope to have the building ready to occupy by October, and will look to start production next spring. As it stands, we need 30% more capacity, but our overall capacity will increase dramatically. We’ll go from about 1.2bn teabags a year now, to being able to produce around 5bn.
Our output received a 15% boost earlier this year when we moved to 24/7 shift production. It’s early days, but staff have been very positive about the change. In fact, they tend to be more productive when the managers aren’t around which has given me something to think about!
Running continuously does tend to make each set of shift workers more competitive, and I do like a bit of healthy competition – but it’s something you have to be careful about. If being competitive means you are not getting things in place for the next shift, then there’s a problem. So, I want to see supportive behaviour as well.
Environmental credentials (back to top)
Key performance indicators have always been important to the business, and that extends to our environmental credentials as well – as you would expect from Wessanen.
Clipper was the first UK tea to carry the Fairtrade mark, and we remain committed to extending that to as many brands as possible. We also want to reduce our landfill waste to zero.
We’ve cut it right down already, and we brought in a biothermic digester for the disposal of teabag waste. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it quite right, so have stopped using it for now – but we’ll try again when in the new building.
Our ethical approach was one of the reasons why we won Beverage manufacturing company of the year at last year’s Food Manufacture Excellence Awards. It was a fantastic award for the team, who deserve all the plaudits it brought.
Like all manufacturing businesses, we’re not without our challenges, but with the new development and with the investment we are putting in, I can see significant growth and exciting times ahead for Clipper Teas.
- LOCATION: Beaminster Business Park, Broadwindsor Road, Beaminster, Dorset.DT8 3PR
- SIZE: 12,000m2
- STAFF: 74
- TURNOVER: 40M (£34M) (global sales).
- MAIN PRODUCTS: Black tea, green tea, fruit and herbal infusions, white tea, speciality tea, hot chocolate, coffee.
- MAIN CUSTOMERS: Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose, DM-Drogerie Markt (Germany), Albert Heijn (Netherlands), Aduki (Finland).
- NUMBER/SPEED OF PRODUCTION LINES: Seven, increasing to 10 this year. Speeds range from 350 to 1,800 teabags a minute (depending on teabag format).
- TOTAL FACTORY OUTPUT: 1.2bn teabags are planned for 2017.