Accolade Park is the largest wine warehouse and distribution centre in Europe, and the only dedicated wine bottling facility in the UK. The site has the ability to package every known format, from 187ml to 750ml glass bottles, and 1.5-litre to 10-litre casks.
I joined Accolade Wines a decade ago to help set up and design this facility, so it was a muddy field when I arrived. Over time, my responsibilities have grown to include the likes of procurement, shipping and distribution.
Three years ago, I was made general manager for European operations and supply chain, so I am now responsible for the wine from the vineyard through to the end-consumer.
When we opened the site in 2009, we were producing 30 million cases a year. Now, we are up to 50 million cases – and we could even manage 60 million without further investment. That said, a few years ago I would have said our business was about scale, but now I would say it’s about agility.
The reason is changing consumer habits. The biggest trend in wine at the moment is the rise of occasion-based shopping. The weekly family shop is in significant decline, and the most common shopping mission is what we term ‘for tonight’.
To meet this trend, we have just launched our first 500ml bottle. There is more moderation these days, and people want to have a variety of pack formats available to them in wine just as much as in any other grocery category.
While the volume of wine being sold in the UK is in decline, the value of that wine is going up. Therefore, we’ve got to make sure our product offering embraces that – and to do that, we have to understand taste profiles.
There is a move, for example, towards wines with a little more sugar in them. Last year, we launched Jam Shed, which is a particularly sweet Shiraz. It has been very successful, and that’s because we listened to what the consumer wanted.
In essence, agility is about having to supply a number of major multiples with full loads on a day-one for day-two basis but then, conversely, producing single bottles direct to consumers. Being able to serve a complete wine offer is crucial to us – we are the only branded wine company to have its own UK facility, and we have to use that as a differentiator.
This site’s operational philosophy is based on lean manufacturing. When I joined Accolade, I undertook an MSc in Lean Operations Management at Cardiff University, which I completed in 2009.
One area of lean we make bespoke to us is our review and direction-setting measures. We conduct hourly performance reviews, but rather than having them done by managers, they are carried out by the guys operating the processes.
Too many businesses make the error of not allowing people to make decisions at the right level. Within our lean framework we want to give people the freedom to think. For example, we also have a 24-hour review each morning, which I’ll often attend. However, I won’t offer up any comments, because it’s not my forum.
We benchmark our performance through a variety of means. The site currently has the highest possible audit score with each of the major multiples. We call this our ‘grand slam’, and there is no other facility in the UK that can match our record.
The quality of our wine is another vital measure. We invite Masters of Wine to conduct blind wine tastings, and to verify that wine bottled here ends up with the consumer in a better condition than if bottled in the country of origin.
If you think about it, wine bottled in Australia has already started oxidising long before it reaches the UK. And then there’s the cost of transportation to consider. By bottling wine in the UK, we save 18,000t of CO2 a year. That’s a huge payback to the business.
Bottling in the UK also benefits local suppliers of glass, labels and card – so it’s good for the UK economy as well.
As is natural with a site of this scale, investment is ongoing. Even though our stock accuracy is currently 99.9938% – a figure our warehouse manager likes to remind me is more accurate than DNA testing – there’s a multi-million pound upgrade to our warehouse management system taking place at the moment. We’ve also put some collaborative robots in, which has freed up our workforce to do more value-added activities.
The site is very much geared to Industry 4.0, but you have to use automation wisely. Having data stored in a computer is no good to me, as I won’t know if anyone has interacted with it. If you walk around the site, you’ll see a huge amount of handwritten data as a visual aid to decision-making.
Our most recent investment is in a blending tank, which means we are now a beverage manufacturer rather than just a wine manufacturer.
We can blend any wine with any spirit or fruit flavour. Since its launch, the Echo Falls Fruit Fusion range, for example, has been hugely successful.
It’s all part of the need to keep in tune with changing consumer tastes, which is essential to our success.
Location: Kings Weston Lane, Bristol. BS11 9FG
Turnover: £480m (overall company)
Staff: 500 (Accolade Park)
Main products: Hardys, Echo Falls, Kumala.
Production lines: Six – three bottling lines, and three bag-in-box lines.
Factory output: 1,200 bottles a minute. 50 million cases of wine will be produced in 2018.