Encouraging a positive work culture at McVitie’s

By Dee Smith

- Last updated on GMT

Smith: ‘Investment is important, we’re nearing the completion of a multi-million pound Jaffa Cake facility’
Smith: ‘Investment is important, we’re nearing the completion of a multi-million pound Jaffa Cake facility’
Pladis’ Dee Smith reveals how continuous investment, community work and a focus on staff health and wellbeing translate into a positive working culture.

This site is one of the most iconic food factories in the UK, and last year it celebrated 100 years of operation. Our main products are Digestives in various formats and Jaffa Cakes. In addition to those, we produce the chocolate for all the Pladis biscuit-making factories throughout the UK.

Pladis was set up by Yildiz Holding in 2016 as a UK-based umbrella company to combine a number of brands. I moved here as part of that reorganisation, having worked at various Yildiz-owned companies for 26 years – most of my working life.

I’m originally from Belfast, but moved to the UK to study food technology. As part of that education, I travelled the world to work at different manufacturing sites. As I was doing this, I found what really turned me on was working with people. So, as soon as I left university, I decided to go back into manufacturing.

I’ve experience in project management, I’ve worked at developing structural, people-change projects, and I’ve been responsible for bringing lean manufacturing into the organisation. In essence, my role is about understanding the supply chain, and being able to translate opportunities through to people on the factory floor.

We operate 24/7 with four main shift teams, each with its own culture. Part of my people management has been to combine members from different teams to work on continuous improvement projects. A good example was the team set up to improve the weight variation of Digestives on line 2.

Continuous improvement

Starting right at the beginning of the process by looking at the consistency of dough, through to oven temperature control, the effectiveness of machine parts and even the amount of waste at the flow-wrapping stage, the team managed to reduce giveaway considerably. We’ve now applied these principles to a number of the other lines.

Working within such a competitive market, it’s vital to drive efficiencies where we can. It’s all part of the company’s wider #RoadToZero waste agenda. Continual investment is also important to our success.

We’re nearing completion of a multi-million pound investment into our Jaffa Cake facility. The brand is 91 years old, but it still has to move with the times.

With the help of our commercial colleagues, we’ve developed a number of new on-the-go formats to meet changing consumer needs. Both biscuits and cake are quite traditional sectors, so these new formats also appeal to younger people.

We have 27,000 Jaffa Cakes in our ovens at any one time – equal to six million a day – and the investment is to enable us to get to a position where we can create a range of pack formats from a single line, so it’s a real advance step.

Looking after employees

Such major projects would be difficult to accomplish if we didn’t bring staff along with us on the journey. Our motto at Pladis is that ‘we promise happiness to the world with every bite’, and that includes our employees, too.

We respect the people we work with, and run a variety of initiatives to support that – including long-service dinners and star awards.

We also have a union-run learning centre, where people can develop their literacy and numerical skills. Or, they can learn a new language, or even learn to play the guitar. There is a world of opportunities.

Staff health and wellbeing is important to us as well. As a company, we recently signed up to the Time to Change mental health campaign.

We now have 19 mental health ambassadors on-site, each trained to look out for signs of problems among staff and signpost them towards the different sources of help that might be available. In addition to this, we offer a free online GP service.

Working in the community

We also acknowledge our presence in the local community. Last year, we coincided our 100-year factory celebrations with the annual Pladis Make Happy, Be Happy day, which takes place every November.

As part of this, we presented a 100-year-old local lady with a hamper. It turned out that Jaffa Cakes were her favourite product, so that was a nice outcome.

Other community events include a family fun day and a Christmas lights switch-on. But there’s also a serious side to some of the community work we do, particularly with younger people, which has led to us receiving a platinum award from Stockport Council.

That work includes workshops for writing CVs, and industrial placements for school-leavers. It’s part of a wider agenda to attract more young people into the industry – particularly females.

We also run graduate and apprenticeship programmes for engineers, operators and team managers. Our first female engineering apprentice has won lots of awards, which is great for everyone concerned.

Ultimately, whether it’s managing our cost base, innovating new products, or looking after our staff, we are always on a path of continuous improvement – both as a factory and as a business. It’s an approach that we believe should put us in good stead for the next 100 years.

McVitie’s Manchester (Pladis)

Location:​ 1043 Crossley Road, Stockport, Greater Manchester. M19 2SD

Size:​ 6,250m2

Group turnover:​ £2.2bn

Staff:​ 520

Main products: ​Digestives (plain, chocolate, caramel, nibbles), Jaffa Cakes, Penguin.

Production lines:​ Seven, plus two chocolate refinery lines.

Factory output: ​51,000t of biscuits and 33,000t of chocolate annually. Six million Jaffa Cakes are made daily, equating to two billion cakes per year.

Related topics: Bakery, People & Skills

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