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Who will win Food/Beverage Manufacture of the Year 2024?

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Here are the finalists for our grand prize of F&B Manufacturer of the Year
Here are the finalists for our grand prize of F&B Manufacturer of the Year

Related tags Business Food manufacture excellence awards

Fighting off extremely fierce competition, our judges have narrowed the finalists down to just six companies – but who will take the grand prize home of ultimate manufacturing champion?

Our prestigious grand prize for Manufacturer of the Year saw an impressive number of entries, open to any UK operating producer of food (including pet food) and/or beverage. Here’s more about our six finalists…

Arla Foods

Arla Food is the largest dairy in the UK market. It follows a cooperative model, meaning is it owned by almost 9,000 dairy farmers in seven countries, including around 2,500 in the UK. All profits go towards supporting its farmers and their families.

With 13 production and logistics sites in the UK, Arla farmers supply nine out of 10 litres of the region’s milk, making the business an integral part of the UK food supply. It supplies a number of well-known household brands, including Anchor, Lurpak, Cravendale, Skyr, and BOB.

The company has 3,700 employees across 11 sites and head office – stretching from Lockerbie Dairy in Scotland to Taw Valley Creamery in the heart of Devon. Ninety-seven percent are full time (over 30 hours) and 3% part time (less than 30 hours).

Arla Foods UK has 9 production sites across the country, with most operating 24/7.

The business works with customer supply chains across multiple functions to ensure promotional execution, aiming at maximising availability to consumers whilst also managing waste at the end of a promotional period. One of the biggest and most wide ranging collaborations with customers focused on packaging transition from coloured milk caps to natural (non-coloured) which enhance the recyclability of all its own label milk bottles. This kept over 1,000 tonnes of food grade plastic in circulation.

Food quality and safety are the highest priority at Arla Foods and this is demonstrated in its strong quality culture mission of ‘Food Safety is Everyone’s Business’. Two such notable activities includes the development and launch of a new QEHS manual, detailing all Arla standards with a compliance score of >90% across the UK, and the work it has done with its engineering and technology teams to prioritise investments to further strengthen quality and food safety including a £1m injection to upgrade coding and labelling systems in its milk sites over the past two years.

Sustainability has become a core KPI across the business. Its scope 1 and 2 targets for logistics and production is to reduce CO2​ by 63% by 2030 and to achieve net zero by 2050. Arla has introduced sustainability champions at every site dedicated to implementing carbon reduction and sustainability initiatives.

For the first six months of 2023 Arla UK has implemented 398tons of CO2 savings as a result of newly introduced supplier assessments. The Oswestry site has been a huge success setting a global standard for roof mounted solar installations. Covering 90% of the roof the 1MW solar panels generate enough electricity to provide for 12% of the sites overall needs through the year and deliver a carbon reduction of 138t per year.

Within Arla’s strategic investment roadmap, it is investing significantly within areas such as growth and innovation, sustainability, business continuity, CI and people. Investments in 2023 totalled €65m and €155m is forecasted for 2024.

Beechdean Dairies

Beechdean is a family-owned and run ice cream manufacturer based in Cheshire that was started on the family farm in Buckinghamshire. It produces all its own ice cream with no outsourcing of production, supplying both the foodservice and retail sectors with a combination of branded and own-label products.

With a team of just 75, it manufacturers a range of frozen products (ice cream, frozen yoghurt, sorbet, vegan products). The site consists of two manufacturing halls, with each hall comprising three production lines. Each line produces dedicated sized containers ranging from 80ml to 5000L Currently, the site produces over 200 million portions of ice cream per year – and is not yet at capacity.  

Beechdean is well established in the food service industry having maintained long-standing partnerships with many national groups over the last 20 years. However, like many manufacturers, Covid was tough on business. Pivoting quickly, the family business looked elsewhere and began to grow relationships with some key partners in retail.

The company conducts daily taste panels on all of its ice cream, so it can be confident its products meet high quality standards and specification requirements. It also carries out benchmarking panels on its products versus the market.

“We have proactively gone to our clients, with our recommendations of what we can do to improve a product. Even if it’s to improve the visual or consistency of the sauce inside our ice cream,”​ its application read.

Its packaging is 100% recyclable and the company claims the title of first UK manufacturer to launch a fully recyclable cardboard 1L tub into the UK retail market.

The business is also working hard on reducing waste and has installed a new twin chamber baler to allow further segregation of materials from general waste.

Additional 11 freezers (split across both its ice cream halls) have been upgraded to improve energy usage, with its freezers going from 108 Ampere-hour to 35 Ampere-hour solar power. Within the next five years, 50% of its power will be sourced renewably from on-site solar panels.

When it comes to people, the business invests heavily into its workforce and has funded many of its employees in an effort to further their development, with training and qualifications. It also uses a detailed training matrix to ensure all its staff have the necessary training to carry out the duties expected of them, and so that it can identify opportunities for progression and personal growth.

With regards to recent innovation, Beechdean has commissioned a fully automated skillet packing machine, providing one of its retail customers with a new product and transformed its factory into a multiple flavours packing facility.  

Bumble Hole Foods

Bumble Hole Foods is England's largest egg processor and manufactures 100% of its products.

It purchases egg from multiple farms in the UK and processes them into products such as pasteurised liquid egg, egg yolk, egg white and specialist blends like egg with sugar etc.

With a team of 85, it boasts three egg processing lines. These include three different egg breakers, pasteurisers and fillers.

It processes approximately 5m eggs per week, as well as producing hard boiled eggs and scrambled eggs, and around 250 tonnes of liquid egg per week over whole egg, egg white, egg yolk and blended bespoke products. The business also produces a range of pack sizes from 1 kilo cartons of whole egg for retail and wholesalers, up to 10 kilo and 1,000 kilo pallecons for food manufacturers.

The company was founded as a traditional egg farm in 1961 by David Hewston, who had a smallholding in his back garden and sold eggs door to door. It remains family-owned, and these family values are shared with its 80+ staff as well as its suppliers and customers.

Its factory is home to an array of machines, with automation and human skill carefully balanced. In terms of innovation, the company has a very low staff turnover and describes itself as ‘very community based’.

During the pandemic alone, the company raised over £20,000 by selling eggs for local charities, including many hospices which suffered during Covid. It continues to give eggs away to local foodbanks and supports local SEN schools with work placements, as well as local community groups.

The business is currently aiming to become totally carbon neutral; and this year, it has been investing (around £400,000+) into green energy, ensuring a large proportion of its electricity is from its own solar panels. This is on top of previous investments of a similar amount and in addition to the investment in its borehole water supply, low-energy lighting, and new machines designed to recover energy.

The company also recycles 99% of its waste. For example, all its eggshells are re-used on farmland as a natural fertiliser (thus reducing the farmers’ need for pesticides), and egg trays are shredded and used to produce notice boards and bio-degradable animal bedding.

Hilltop

Hilltop Honey is the second largest honey brand in the UK. Located in mid Wales, the company produces a range of products, including honey, organic honey, maple syrup and agave. Products are available in reusable glass jars, fully recyclable squeezy bottles and biodegradable materials.

The business has a team of 116 and two manufacturing sites in Vastre and Dyffryn. The Vastre facility processes and packs honey and maple, and the Dyffryn processes and packs peanut butter.

The honey/maple sites pack products for retail, food service and b2b businesses across four production lines. Hilltop can pack products ranging from 15g stick sachets up to 1 ton IBCs of product in either PET bottle, tubs, glass jars, sachet film or jerry cans.

Within the last 12 months, the Vastre site has seen some big investments, including a new glass jar production line which has enabled the business to double its glass jar throughput, and a new twin headed labeller for the glass jar line, which in turn has reduced downtime by 8%.

The Vastre site is also working towards reducing its waste and returns through various means. This includes sourcing better quality packaging, reviewing its pallet distribution processes, reducing factory waste by investing in new line equipment and the installation of two new warming rooms which will ultimately increase its quality consistency, along with a new heat exchanger system.

The Dyffryn facility has seen concurrent improvements, including new peanut blenders, ensuring quality and performance requirements are met; and internal fabrication works to guide the site towards obtaining BRC and customer accreditations, to name a few.

Over the last year, the company has managed to increase distribution across key retailers, producing more than 15m units and packing in excess of 6,000 tonnes of product. It has also doubled its market share to 7.5%, achieved BRC grade AA, and almost doubled its workforce, with plans to expand further.

Sleaford Quality Foods

Sleaford Quality Foods is a leading supplier of ambient ingredients and blends to the manufacturing and catering/foodservice industries. Its products include herbs, spices, seasoning, dehydrated fruits/vegetables, pulses and innovative blends, which are manufactured and mixed on site.  

The business currently employs 135 people, with 131 full time and four part time. This equates to a significant growth of 20% over the last two years across all areas of the business.

Originally located at the old Bass Maltings in the town centre, the business moved to its new home (134,000sq ft) in 1980. After reaching capacity, it expanded to a second site (290,000 sq ft) in 2018, which offered additional office, factory and warehouse space.

The business has consistently demonstrated strong growth, innovation and integrity, alongside supporting important values including sustainability and wellbeing.

With the exception of the pandemic, the business has achieved consistent year-on-year growth since its inception.

The company boasts a diverse customer base and is passionate about working closely with its partners. Recently, it undertook a project with a well-known blender and co-packer to aid its brand extension.

This encompassed eager engagement from the concept stage, creativity through innovation and development, onto technical approval including artwork, packaging and nutritional sign offs, culminating in practical trials and the subsequent successful retail launch.

“This has been the perfect example of how we can support a client through every step of development projects and we regularly replicate across our customer portfolio,”​ the application read

Quality assurance plays a central role in its production processes and its enhanced testing initiative is aimed at improving food safety through horizon scanning and market research in procurement. This innovative approach has instilled greater confidence in its products, enabling the company to concentrate on identifying potential contaminants, providing additional reassurances to our customers.

Maintaining transparency in supply chain management is a fundamental aspect of its approval process throughout the supply chain, too. This ensures its customers have access to extensive food defence data. In summer 2022, Sleaford launched a user-friendly technical portal specifically designed with its customers in mind. This tool enhances the relationship between SQF and its customers and also allows instant access to technical information about approved suppliers, including food safety and approval documentation. This empowers customers to conduct desktop audits and supplier re-approvals without the need for prior scheduling or information requests.

Sleaford is also currently undertaking an environmental audit with an external company, identifying initiatives and policies to help it achieve net zero by 2033. The new initiatives will be regularly reviewed and will play a central role in meeting its environmental objectives.

The company has invested heavily in the business, with recent initiatives including its innovation kitchen and a new customer suite, as well as introducing several new roles to the company, such as innovation manager, innovation process controller, and senior development technologist.

The Tracklement Company

Describing itself as ‘the life and soul of the pantry’, this modest business of just 68, has 50 years of rich history and consistent growth.

B Corp certified, Tracklement manufactures a range of over 50 mustards, condiments and relishes in a ‘sustainable, ethical and traditional way’.

Voted best supplier of pickles and chutneys by specialist retailers for 12 years on the trot, this company is no stranger to success and has won more than 180 food awards.

The artisan business produces in small batches using ingredients sourced locally and regionally wherever possible, and is available in both retail and foodservice in more than 20 countries.

Operating within a 26,000sq ft site in rural Wiltshire, Tracklement manufacturers around 1,200 tonnes per annum. This is spilt across 380 SKUs of branded and specialist own label products. That’s the equivalent to 15,000-18,000 jars (not including portion pots) per day across five filling lines.

Tracklement also boasts the title of the UK's first wholegrain mustard, savoury jellies, onion marmalade and chilli jam.

It is annually audited by BRC (grade A), Sedex, Comply Direct, ISO 14001 and runs an annual customer survey – to date, its customers consistently give the business an average score of 9.3/10.

When it comes to sustainability, the company already has 10,000 sq ft of solar panels, uses a water treatment process and has had efficient gas boilers installed since in 2021. In the last 18 months, it has introduced food waste repurposing, achieving zero waste to landfill. It is also monitoring its annual carbon footprint with a target to reduce annually.

Tracklement has invested £393K in capital projects in the last 12 months; one of which included the installation of evaporative cooling equipment – an environmentally friendly method of cooling work spaces. It has also invested in creating a state-of-the-art online ordering facility on its trade website to make the customer journey much simpler. It has targeted 60% of eligible orders and monitors against that monthly. It further measures time saved in processing orders (YTD 5 weeks of processing time saved).

Finally, in order to promote British manufacturing, the business holds an annual open day where people can visit the factory and discover how its condiments are made.

The winners of this grand prize will be announced at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards 2024 on Thursday 8 February at the London Hilton Bankside. You can buy tickets here.​​​

Thank you to our headliner sponsor Menzies, alongside event sponsors Quor, HSBC, and CAS Recruitment.

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