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Investing in the future: from flour to bakery ingredients

10 December 2014

G.R.Wright & Sons has been established at the Ponders End Mill since 1867 and is the only family owned flour mill in London. After 147 years, the company has opened a second site one mile away in Delta Park for their baking ingredients factory as the company expands its business.

The oldest building of the Wright Flour Mill is over 300 years old and the mill has served well as the base for Wright’s flour milling business. But as the company grows and requires more space to expand, the decision was made to look for a new site to grow their bakery ingredients business. The original plan was to build on the original flour mill site, but planning permission was denied. And after a five year search to find a property near enough to the Ponders End site, Wrights bought the freehold on the Delta Park site where they have built a purpose made, expansive factory to expand into as they grow their bakery ingredients business. 

“It became clear that we needed something bigger than the flour mill and more appropriate for the bakery ingredients business,” explains David Wright, fifth generation family member and current Managing Director of G.R Wright & Sons. “In the past 20 years, we’ve developed this range of bread mixes and cake mixes that is both high quality as well as easy and straightforward for home bakers to use. We’re the brand leader on branded retail home bread mixes and part of that is due to the high quality base flour we have from the mill. If you’re going to make your own bread at home, then the quality has to be high otherwise you might as well just buy a loaf from the store.”

Wright’s now has around 15 varieties of bread mix from standard white bread to pumpkin and brioche. With a growing range, the company’s move to the new 50,000 square foot factory was a big project but a necessary one as they look to the future. “We’ve got massive amounts of storage space in this new factory,” says Julian Woodgate, Technical Director at Wright’s. “The new factory was an opportunity for us to build a purpose-built factory with a through-flow that follows the ingredients around the factory in a clockwise direction that improves efficiency and cuts waste.”

And manufacturing losses as they transferred over the business from one site to the other was minimised by splitting the production across the sites. “The spade went in the ground in February 2013 and we moved into this new facility in January 2014, but production didn’t transfer fully until April 2014,” says Woodgate. “Because we bought a lot of new equipment, production at the mill could continue while we got this place up and running and could test things without worrying about production losses. We left all the packing equipment at the mill and bought new lines for this facility as the packing lines are still needed to pack our flour. We bought new mixers as well as transferring over the mixer from Ponders End and there were a few bits of equipment that had to come out of one site at the end of the week to be installed and up and running by the start of the next week, but on the whole, we had the time to make sure everything was running as it should be before production started.”

The test bakery
The first area in the new factory is the bakery. “At the other site, we had a small test bakery,” says Woodgate. “We also had a new product development room and a breadmaker room for the retail side of the business. We test every retail batch that passes through the factory by baking it into a cake or bread so it’s important that we carry the major brands of breadmakers to ensure we can recommend the best settings for our products. In this new facility, we have amalgamated the three areas into one area with plenty of space to move around. Aside from the sinks, everything else in the room is easily moveable so if we have any customer visits and need to move anything around, we can do it easily.”

Wright’s has made a concerted effort to reproduce the equipment used in craft bakeries. With fryers and ovens from MONO, Brook Food Processing Equipment and reconditioned Hobarts, the company is able to test and evaluate their new products for retail and trade. 

New product development is an area where the company wants to expand, and keeping in touch with consumers is important to the company for feedback and ideas for innovation. “We’ve got a home-baking club where we can keep in touch directly with consumers,” explains Wright. “Baking is a social activity, and our website is full of recipes and advice for breadmaker settings. We tend to find there are three types of consumers: the consumer who bakes from scratch but might buy a mix because it’ll be a speciality variety; the consumer at the other end of the spectrum who will start with a mix to ease into baking; and finally the consumer in the middle who will continue to use the mix as a base for their own ideas and will get more adventurous with trying new things. We try to appeal to all different types of consumers with our mixes.”

One of the areas Wright’s Bakery Ingredients is concentrating more on with the new factory is the bespoke trade products. “We have a team that goes into bakeries and looks at what is needed by the client,” says Wright. “We’re able to bespoke trade products to client requirements, so if they want a higher or lower volume, a sweeter product or perhaps a different colour to the product, then we can work on that in the new product development area. It’s a main area of growth for us.” 

And while shows like the Great British Bake Off being so popular, does it have an effect on the market? “I think its raised awareness, which is great,” says Woodgate. “Getting consumers more interested in baking is a good thing. People are spending more time in the bakery aisle of supermarkets or popping into their local bakery so at some point along the food chain, they’ll be using our products. Our cake mixes are a nice compromise for people who might not necessarily want to start from scratch straightaway but who want to try new things.”

And new products are of course impacted by global trends, which Wright’s keeps track of. “For a good number of years, a lot of our confectionery mix products were influenced by the American market, so there were a lot of muffin and brownie mixes on the market,” says Woodgate. “However, over the past eight years or so with the Great British Bake Off being so popular, there has been a turn towards more traditional, UK-orientated products. Our original five cake mixes were the traditional pound cake variety, and our ginger cake is one of our biggest sellers.”

“On the other hand, we also try to make exciting, new products with our mixes, such as our cake pops, a US-led innovation made from our cake mixes,” says Woodgate. “The product is made and dried almost like a rum baba before they’re coated and placed on the end of a lollipop. Our mixes can act as a base to create something new, so our consumers have that scope to create something unique.”

The factory
Outside the factory by goods-in are five silos for bulk ingredients; wholemeal flour, cake flour, sugar and two silos for standard white flour. “At the mill, we used bagged sugar so it’s been a learning experience handling bulk sugar,” explains Woodgate. “They’re all blown in and connect to our management system so that when we start a recipe, it recognises bulk and bagged ingredients. Bulk ingredients are always pulled first and when they’re finished, you can add bagged ingredients and then finally fat or oil if the recipe requires it.”

There’s a weighbridge outside the factory for incoming vehicles so the company can track everything going in and out of the factory. “Anything that comes into the factory is booked in and given a barcode before it’s put into the racking system,” says Woodgate. “We use a management system from Sanderson called Unity which holds all the information of our mixes, orders, customer orders and sales. It’s a powerful tool and can help us track where our ingredients are and that the recipe is using the right ingredients with the right barcode. The barcode has a product description, use by date, lot number and suppliers’ lot number.”

The bulk ingredients are piped directly from the silos to service bins above the mixers. The service bins are smaller bins that enable the company to work more efficiently. They hold up to a tonne of product from the silos to keep it constantly available so that the mixes aren’t delayed while the silos pull in ingredients. All bagged ingredients meanwhile are measured out and weighed according to recipe with specific ingredients with unique barcodes to be used. The barcodes have to be scanned to ensure the correct batch is being used before the label will print so the product can be placed within the consignment to be mixed together.

“Recipes cannot be altered in process,” says Wright. “The management system will only produce a label when the weigh machine hits its target, which creates consistency, helps ensure cost control and enables traceability. Once all the ingredients are measured out for a mixing batch, they’re placed together on the racking ready for mixing.”

There are three mixers, provided by Winkworth Machinery, and with space to install a fourth if the company chooses to do so. The service bins are directly above the mixers and explosion panels are installed to release pressure if needed. A SCADA system controls the mixers and silos and interacts with the Unity management system, which controls the recipes. 

Once the ingredients have entered the mixer and have been mixed, a sample from each batch is removed to be taken to the bakery for quality control. Each product has to be tested before it’s packed. 

Wright’s uses tote bags for mixed ingredients. “Not only do they help with allergen control, but they take up less space,” explains Woodgate. “There’s no cross-contamination if we have dedicated tote bags for each product.”

New packing lines
The packing lines are new installations; two lines for retail and two for trade. “Primarily, trade one packs bread mix and trade two packs cake mix,” says Wright. “And the retail lines will process 140 packs a minute, which is a fast operation. The paper packs are filled then the top folded over and glued. The product passes through a Mettler Toledo metal detector and checkweigher and their FreeWeigh.Net™ software collects the data so we can analyse it. Then finally, the products are date coded. Afterwards, the packs are shrinkwrapped and palletised. The pallet is given a barcode for rack allocation before it’s sent out on dispatch.”

Wright’s Bakery Ingredients have recently moved into boxed products, unveiled at the Cake & Bake Show in October. The boxed kits enable consumers to create Victoria Sponge and Chocolate Sponge cakes thanks to the cake mix and butter cream icing within the box. They have installed a new form fill and seal line to create the boxed kits, which will be available on the shelf in early 2015. “There are retailers who want to specifically sell boxes rather than paper products, so it’s an area we’re moving into,” says Wright. “The clear advantage is that a boxed product is bigger on a shelf to attract consumers. It expands our product portfolio.”

For a company that’s been in business for 150 years, expansion and growth is key to their longevity. “We’re always thinking long term,” says David Wright. “This factory is a great investment for us and hopefully we’ll be here for a long time, or at least until our next expansion plans!”

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