New product developments have helped boost volumes at cake firm Mr Kipling with its factory in Barnsley preparing for a bumper Easter this year.
Simon Wood, general manager of the Premier Foods factory in Carlton, told The Yorkshire Post that the site was busier than the run-up to previous Easter holidays.
“Easter is becoming probably our second most important seasonal product run behind Christmas,” Mr Wood said.
He added:“If you look at it employment-wise, our core staff is about 750. We’ll be taking on probably up to about 150 agency workers in the run-up to Easter.”
The general manager says that Easter is becoming more important as family time and that has resulted in an uplift in production.
Mr Kipling has looked to add new flavours to its range and this Easter the Carlton factory will produce Lemonade and Elderflower Slices, Lemon Fancies, Lemon Whirls, Egg Fancies and Triple Chocolate slices.
“What we’re trying to do is tap into trends around the products that we make,” Mr Wood, inset, who became general manager nearly five years ago, said.
He added: “Lemonade and elderflower is on trend at the moment. We’re trying to tap into these things. Just making cake a little bit more interesting.”
Consumer tastes are becoming more varied and this provides a challenge for the cake firm. However, the classics still remain popular.
Mr Wood says Angel Slices continue to be the most popular cake to come off the production line. His own personal favourites are mini battenbergs.
Mr Kipling, which is owned by Premier Foods, is busier throughout the year now as a result of its product innovations. For the past two years it has produced treats themed based on characters from popular children’s author, Roald Dahl.
Mr Wood said: “We had a big one last year with Unicorn Slices. That was just phenomenal. I can’t believe the obsession people have with unicorns.”
There has also been a drive towards providing more healthier options. Mr Kipling has launched Angel Slices with 30 per cent less sugar and also created a range of cake slices for children.
Brexit hasn’t impacted the factory but Mr Wood admits there is a lingering uncertainty as Britain’s relationship with the European Union remains in limbo.
The factory hasn’t stockpiled much for a no deal Brexit. Mr Wood says it’s a fast moving site and its products have a relatively limited shelf-life.
“We just need leadership from the Government,” he said. “The unknown is the only impact. As far as how we run the factory day-to-day, there’s very little impact.”
A lot of its flour supply comes from the UK while other raw materials that do come from the continent, the factory has increased stock by a “small amount”.
The factory in Carlton is the biggest Premier Foods operation, says Mr Wood.
“This site alone will make just over one billion cakes a year,” he added.
It is capable of producing 864 fondant fancies a minute and 1,000 cake slices a minute.
At peak times, such as the run-up to Christmas, the factory makes up to 25 million cakes a week while around Easter it produces around 20 to 21 million cakes.
Mr Kipling has 750 core staff and for busier periods it relies on agency workers coming in. The business has the capacity to bring in another 350 workers to help deliver seasonal treats such as mince pies for Christmas.
On Tuesday, the production line was at its peak for Easter themed treats.
Mr Wood has spent over 20 years in the food industry. Prior to joining Premier Foods he spent time as a plant manager for Quality Street in Halifax.
He said: “I’m a Yorkshire lad, originally born and bred in Bradford. I moved around the country a little bit and now live in York.”
The general manager of the factory started his career at a Bradford-based chemical engineering firm as a degree apprentice.
Mr Wood said: “I started out as an apprentice. I was an apprentice mechanical fitter. They then put me through my degree.”
Mr Kipling also runs its own apprenticeships in conjunction with a graduate programme. Mr Wood says investing in its people is at the forefront of the cake firm’s thinking.
“Ensuring that we’ve got the right trained people around us is the biggest challenge but we invest in those people,” Mr Wood said. “We ensure that they’ve got decent employment and hopefully more fulfilment through the development that we put into them.”
He added: “If the people have the right skills, the right training, it makes everyone’s life a lot easier.”
An industrial hive of actvity
The site in Carlton started producing Mr Kipling cakes in 1975, according to Simon Wood. It was a colliery before that.
Mr Wood added: “We did some digging around. I think there’s been industrial activity on this site since the 1700s.
“We are a big employer in Yorkshire. There’s a lot of employment related directly to the site with our suppliers and contractors. We are a big site. There’s very few as large as this factory. You can see why we make one billion cakes.”
Food group Premier Foods acquired the brand in 2007.