Me and my team

‘Our machinery is designed and built in-house because we care so much about the end user experience’

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

Several varieties of fresh and dry pasta are manufactured by Ugo Foods. Credit: Ugo Foods
Several varieties of fresh and dry pasta are manufactured by Ugo Foods. Credit: Ugo Foods

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Discover how an innovative modern day pasta manufacturing facility operates as Ugo Foods Group CEO Sophia Cooke and operations director Charlie Ugo take Food Manufacture behind the scenes.

Company​: Ugo Foods Group Ltd

Address​: 1 Hertsmere Industrial Park, Warwick Road, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6 1GT

Number of employees​: 160

Size of site​: 80,000 square feet

Shift patterns​: 24/7

Types of lines​: 6 fully automated bespoke lines

Charlie Ugo​: The lineage of Ugo Foods stretches back as far as 1929, when my great grandfather Luigi Ugo, a young man who moved from Italy to London in the early 1920s, opened his first delicatessen on Gerrard Street in London. Working in the store each day, Luigi would make fresh pasta in view of passers-by on the street outside and in the process established the foundation for the business that still operates today.

Ugo Foods has remained in the family ever since, with my father Paul still involved in a mentoring role to this day, having served as CEO between 1993 and 2018. I joined the business on a part-time basis while still studying Physics at Imperial College London, before starting in a full-time capacity in 2017 following my graduation.

I have always loved design and problem solving and by working in several roles across all departments initially, I developed a detailed understanding of how everything works throughout the business. Today, most of our machinery is designed and built in-house because we care so much about the end user experience. As a consumer, if you boil your pack of pasta and the water turns the colour of the filling or the pasta casing splits apart, you are unlikely to buy that product again.

Sophia Cooke​: Like Charlie, I arrived at the business in 2017 as commercial director before stepping up to my current role as CEO two years later. My background in the sector is with a number of retail businesses including Tesco and I came aboard with the task of revitalising the Dell’ Ugo brand and moving the business into the next stage of its development.

As a business Ugo Foods has fantastic private label capacity, supplying leading grocers and restaurants with fresh pasta and noodles, but it was felt the Dell’ Ugo brand needed a new direction and vision that could unlock its potential. Both Paul and Charlie are so passionate about NPD and innovation and are always ahead of the curve, but until the rebrand of Dell’ Ugo in 2018, it was a very well-kept secret.

Since the rebrand in 2018 though, the Dell’ Ugo brand has gone from strength to strength and now offers far more than just pasta. As well as our ranges of fresh, filled and unfilled, gluten-free and vegan pastas, we also now offer pesto, pinsa bread, focaccia bread, gnocchi, sauces and meal kits and are soon to launch butters, desserts and arancini. All of these products are manufactured with the same high-quality ingredients, care and attention as our pasta and customers have responded incredibly well. Prior to the relaunch, Dell’ Ugo was a £1.2m brand and today it is worth up to £18m at market level, which is something that the entire team should be really proud of.

Currently, Waitrose, Ocado and Sainsburys are the biggest stockists of the Dell’ Ugo brand, while it also sold via deli and farm shops, wholesale, foodservice and direct to consumer on our Dell’ Ugo webshop. Our goal now is to grow our very loyal Dell’ Ugo customer base and make sure that people who love it can get it.

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Sophia Cooke and Charlie Ugo. Credit: Ugo Foods

Charlie Ugo​: In the UK, the expectation in terms of filling consistency and flavour profile is very different to what you find elsewhere, especially in Italy, so our bespoke systems have been developed to meet the demands of British consumers. Our attention to detail even goes as far as determining the size of the filling particulate where we have built the machinery in a way that ensures meat or seafood texture is retained even when the customer goes to boil the pasta at home.

Every line in our factory has been planned and built meticulously to reduce waste and to eliminate cross contamination, while also ensuring optimum quality, texture and taste. Examples of our innovation include the UK’s first fresh pasta product to be free from all 14 known allergens, while we also introduced the nation’s first gluten-free pasta range.

As a result, our team members are trained in a way that prioritises multi-skilling across the entire business, as this ensures that every member of staff understands their role in the wider manufacturing and distribution process and how each stage is interconnected. We have developed a pathway of training programmes which focuses on essential skills like feeling dough in order to determine its water levels and to judge whether it has the required consistency, because staff need to make these judgement calls regularly when working on the lines.

Before a member of staff can lead a certain production area we want them to have two years of experience, as this will allow them to take informed decisions and lean on the skills and knowledge they have developed over time. But also, when the R&D team develops a new product it will not be put into production until we have sign off from the team because we value their input and recognise that they will be responsible for putting each new concept into action. Because of this ethos we do not employ any agency staff on our lines, only full-time employees that have been trained in-house.

Sophia Cooke​: We are all foodies here whether you work in NPD, production, commercial and everyone has a genuine sense of investment in this ethos of innovation and challenging conventions that has been created. This has allowed us to keep pushing things forward as a brand without losing our focus on quality and while staying true to our values.

I always try and emphasise that we shouldn’t fear making mistakes. It is mistakes that allow us to keep growing. We are always very receptive to customer feedback and will act upon this in a way that allows us to keep improving. Suggestions from fans of the brand are always welcome, and as Charlie mentioned we also massively value the input from our team members too.

I have worked in the food and beverage industry for nearly my entire career and I have never worked in a business like this before. It is like in an onion in the sense that you can continue to peel away layers and more good stuff emerges, which really is unique. Our ethos permeates through the entire company and this is reflected in the incredible loyalty of our employees, many of whom have been here for more than 20 years.

Charlie Ugo​: Luigi started this business in 1929 because he saw a gap in the market for high-quality pasta that was made in the way that he learned back in Italy, and maintaining that legacy is priority number one as we look ahead. However, this will not restrict us as we look to continue breaking boundaries on quality, consumer satisfaction and sustainability.

Sustainability needs to be driven by business because there is only so much that consumers can do at home. We are witness to the significant waste generated and the unsustainable practices within the food and beverage industry, and therefore our aim is to enact meaningful change in this realm through innovation and a willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of progress. This requires us to work with our partners and the wider industry, but we are keen to act as a leader in this space moving forward.

As part of this mission, we are looking at ways to reutilise output from the manufacturing process in a way that allow us to reduce the environmental impact of our operations. This ranges from reducing the amount of CO2 added during the packaging process and upgrading our refrigerant systems, launching the most sustainable packaging in our categories, to using excess pasta dough to make beer through our sister business, Beyond Belief Brewing Company, which is due to launch later this year.

Sophia Cooke​: We are in a unique position where we are small enough to be flexible and nimble, and big enough to have an impact on the wider food industry. Our reach within the sector is extensive and I think this places us really well to introduce new methods and trial technology that can bring about the change that is clearly needed.

In other news, SHICKEN founders Parm and Satvinder Bains tell Food Manufacture about their longstanding commitment to the creation of authentic Asian plant-based dishes​, before explaining how they grew from a kitchen start-up to build a multi-million-pound business and a state-of-the-art production facility.

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