Behind the scenes of Yorkshire’s ‘secret’ Haribo factory

Across the ceilings and down the walls of Haribo’s giant factory lies a network of steel pipes, transporting ingredients and colourful sweets around the three-storey building.

Jon Hughes, managing director of Haribo UK and Ireland.

It feels like they’ve missed a trick by not installing see-through pipes to showcase the process which turns starch into their signature fruit-flavoured gummies, but according to German-born operations director Frank Windmann, it wasn’t technically possible.

Instead, the process is hidden away in huge steel vats, pipes, crates and semi-automated production lines at its £92m Castleford factory, which was completed in 2016.

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Haribo, which also has an older site in Pontefract, is famously secretive about its factories but it’s not the recipes that are under wraps, it’s the processes.

“The production environment is Haribo-unique,” Mr Windmann says as he shows me around. “You can buy the equipment but we install it and tweak it to make it ours.”

This culture of secrecy is the source of intrigue among competitors. “When we go to exhibitions, there are always fishing exercises going on,” Mr Windman says. “We have to train our people to be mindful about this.”

The company, best known for its Starmix, Gummy Bear and Tangfastic sweets, has just entered phase two of its £22m investment in Castleford to expand production and reduce costs. It recently invested £4m in a new, more efficient, production line which is due to go live this week. A second identical line is currently in pieces on the factory floor, waiting to be put together.

Two new packing lines have also been installed. More will be added in due course.

Mr Windmann admits it would be useful for suppliers to be able to come into the building sometimes.

Haribo, which last year posted a turnover of just under £180m, employs 740 staff in Yorkshire, including 600 on the manufacturing side, but it’s a time of change for the company.

Some of the production is migrating from Pontefract to Castleford to make the operation more efficient and sustainable. Low skilled jobs are being replaced by fewer high skilled engineering roles to operate the new automated technology. The company also employs seven apprentices.

Last year the company identified 77 roles for redundancy, of which over 30 ended up being redeployed into other teams.

The new operation is a world away from the labour-intensive Haribo environment that Mr Windmann first started working in when he joined the company’s German headquarters as a student in 1995.

“I remember what we were producing when I first started and we’re now producing more than double that. It’s a different ball game.

“In the same way, we’re now packing two and a half times more bags per minute. Where you have higher efficiency, you can improve on your quality standards, you’re more accurate and you work in a safer environment.”

The retail operation is also expanding. Haribo has six shops all over the country including Pontefract and York, with another two planned for this year. “We want to create an experience as much as a shopping trip,” says managing director Jon Hughes. “We’re not going to end up with 100 stores but we’ll open a couple a year for now and see how we go.”

There is further investment planned for next year. “It’s about securing the future of this site and making sure that we have the capacity to grow,” Mr Hughes says. “We’re keen for our colleagues who want to develop careers in engineeing and other high skilled roles to have a secure future.”

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James Mitchinson