As factory manager of this site in Wembley, north London, I am responsible for the production of approximately 850,000 food-to-go items a week.
Adelie Foods has three other manufacturing sites – in Kilmarnock, Milton Keynes and nearby Southall. Here, our main focus is the Urban Eat brand, which mainly comprises sandwiches and wraps.
We also make own-label sandwiches, wraps, ‘sub’ rolls, toasties, paninis and croissants, as well as a variety of high-protein vegetable ‘pots’ for coffee chains such as Caffè Nero.
I know this site better than my own home, having started here in 1995 when the company was Harry Mason Finger Foods.
I had not long arrived in the country, after fleeing Algeria during what was the height of the country’s civil war. As a police detective out there, I quickly realised the only guarantee of safety was to leave.
I started in the dispatch team, but within a year I was promoted to production manager. The company was nothing like the size it is now, but it was still an important role. I had many people reporting in to me.
In 2005, the site was bought by Brambles Foods and, two years later, it was acquired by Food Partners. Between the takeovers, I was promoted to day-shift manufacturing manager and, before long, was responsible for both the day and night shifts.
Three years ago, the firm was bought by private investment firm HIG Europe, which rebranded all the sites as Adelie Foods. And, finally, last year I became factory manager.
We operate from 8pm to 5am seven nights a week, and 10am to 6pm six days a week. The Saturday day shift is set aside for cleaning and maintenance.
A food factory can be a cold, unforgiving environment, so it’s important to bring a little fun into the day. To aid this, I like to create some healthy competition between the two shift teams, and we have a key performance indicator board for each, so they can measure up against each other.
Location: 665 North Circular Road, London. NW2 7AX
Group turnover: £250m
Staff: 370, plus 15% agency
Main products: Sandwiches, subs, wraps, toasties and paninis. High-protein breakfast pots are becoming increasingly popular.
Main customers: The 70 Urban Eat products made on-site serve c-stores, forecourts, coffee shops, schools, hospitals and universities. The rest are own-label products.
Production lines: Seven.
Factory output: 850,000 packs a week. Capacity is 1.1m packs.
We offer up small prizes such as boxes of chocolates for the best-performing shift teams, as well as the individual line teams.
I make sure I am down on the factory floor every day, asking staff how they are, how things are going, and if there’s anything I can do for them. My job is to help and support them.
I’m also aware there are times when I have to make important decisions. When the fipronil egg contamination crisis broke last summer, I first received a warning that there was a problem at 8.30am – but no one had yet formally decided what we should do.
Despite that, I decided to act quickly and not use the suspect batch of eggs, starting production instead with an unaffected batch.
Three hours later, the decision was made not to use the suspect batch. In all, we had to destroy 3,000 sandwiches – but if we hadn’t acted when we did, we would have lost around 30,000.
Making so many sandwiches and wraps is a complicated process, as there are so many ingredients involved. We use, for example, 23 different types of mayonnaise alone.
We used to buy the raw materials and prepare everything in-house, but we now buy most things pre-sliced. Similarly, the only mixing we do is tuna and mayo.
Forecasting is a challenge as well. Order too little of an ingredient and you risk falling short on orders, or order too much and it will end up in the bin. It’s a delicate balance.
Like cogs in a wheel, each department in the factory has to be in sync for us to function properly. We’ve got tight dispatch times for some products, which can be very demanding when the weather is bad, as it was earlier this year.
Depending on volumes, we fill four or five lorries over the course of a day. They have to leave on time, and must be the right temperature. To be able to achieve everything, communication is key. And when issues occur, you have to deal with them quickly.
Those principles also apply in the main hall. We have seven lines, and operate five or six at any one time. To lower costs, we’re always looking at ways to make our process more efficient and cut down on waste.
Buttering depositors are a good example. We recently installed one on our line for simple sandwich spreads. I used to be against this kind of technology, as they would take a long time to clean – but this model is simpler and quicker to maintain. The depositor provides us with greater consistency and enables us to make 4,000 sandwiches an hour on the line.
Having people work across different roles helps them to understand challenges faced by other departments. So, I have started to let people work across departments.
If someone in production wants to try their hand in dispatch, that’s fine with me. I care about the people I work with, and developing their careers is important.
As a result, I’ve noticed there is much more empathy between staff these days – which can only be a good thing for the future of the company.