Tour York's Nestle Rowntree factory
This is possibly the only chance you'll get to see inside York's newest chocolate factory. Nestle are spending £20 million on new production lines to make Aero. We've been given an exclusive tour of the site.
Nestle Rowntree hit the headlines in September 2006 when it announced a major re-organisation of its York factory. More than 600 jobs would be lost and production of some iconic brands would be transferred elsewhere. Smarties, for example, would be produced in Germany, Drifter moved to Castleford and Matchmaker to Forden in Newcastle.
View of the Victorian factory buildings
The re-organisation was designed to secure the long term future of the company's operation in York which can trace it's roots back almost 300 years. In particular the changes tackled some of the problems created by using 21st century technology to make chocolate and sweets in 100 year old buildings.
When the Rowntree family opened their Cocoa Works on Haxby Road in 1890 it was a state of the art factory, but by 2006 these 4 and 5 storey Victorian buildings no longer suited to the modern way to make chocolate. The solution which Nestle Rowntree Managing Director, Paul Grimwood, came up with was to completely move out of the old buildings, sell off that part of the site and use the money to invest in new production facilities on the more modern part of the site.
Walking into the old part of the factory, the best way to describe it is rather like an old hospital. There are very long, wide, corridors, lots of exposed pipework and production is spread out over several floors. Among the problems, says Paul Grimwood, are that the corridors are dead space - they've got to be heated and lit, which increases the running costs. It's also difficult to keep the temperature consistent, which is the key to making good quality chocolate. If the temperature is slightly too high or too low the chocolate is ruined.
Paul Grimwood, MD Nestle Rowntree
It also costs a lot of money to move raw materials around the factory. For example, if you're making chocolate on the 5th floor, the raw materials need getting up to that floor before you start and once you've finished you've got to get the chocolate bars down to the ground floor before they can be loaded up and driven away. Again, this is money which adds to the costs.
The way the building was constructed also causes problems. Inside the confectionary rooms there are pillars every 15-20 yards. They've got to be there because they hold the roof up, but they create enormous restrictions when you need to replace old machinery.
Aerial view of York's Nestle Rowntree factory
The modern way of making chocolate - such as the 'Kit Kat 5' plant which was built in York in the 1990's - is in large, single storey, warehouse style buildings. The production process is very linear, the equipment is laid out on the flat, the raw materials go in at one end and at the other end the finished, packed chocolate bars roll off the conveyor belt and virtually go straight into the loading bay. "It's one of the biggest Kit Kat plants in the world and is one of the biggest confectionary plants in the world." On the day we were there, among the places Kit Kats were being packed for were the UK, Middle East and Canada.
Paul Grimwood describes the York site as "a site of two halves, the old Victorian infrastructure and the most modern of manufacturing facilities." He goes on to explain that "it became very clear within a short space of time that the costs we were having to try and swallow from the old part into the new part was actually making the whole site inefficient, when in actual fact the site is very efficient when you focus on the new investments since Nestle bought the business in 1988."
View of inside the new Aero factory
He says they've kept what they can in York, which is around 80% production. Part of this has been achieved by investing £15 - £20 million on a new factory to produce Aero. The picture here is one of the first views of the inside of the new Aero factory. It's likely to be one of the few chances to see into the heart of the future of chocolate making in York.
New Aero factory
Paul Grimwood is adamant they're not trying to cut costs by moving production to Eastern Europe. He says it’s "a complete mistruth" that production is going to Eastern Europe. "Only 1% of the products we've moved have gone to Eastern Europe" he says "the other parts of the brands - such as Smarties and Dairy Box - have gone to high cost markets such as Germany and Spain. It's not about wage rates, it's about utilising the factories better, fuller factories are quite clearly more efficient than empty ones."
If these changes had not been made, he believes that within five years Nestle Rowntree operation in York would have become uneconomic. With the changes he says they are well on track to "making the business fit for purpose and fit for the future."
last updated: 18/09/2008 at 10:57