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Crisp maker reckons its facility is a corker

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Crisp maker reckons its facility is a corker

November 15
12:34 2013

Corkers Crisps was founded in 2011 and had plenty of success. To progress further, a brand new plant to manufacture and bag the crisps was needed. Philip Chadwick went behind the scenes at the Ely facility.

Who Corkers Crisps

Aim Made from potatoes grown on the Taylor family farm in Cambridgeshire, the fledgling Corkers Crisps brand was looking to move manufacturing in-house to gain more control of the production process

Spend £1 million

What A new crisp manufacturing plant with kit ranging from a frying unit to bagging equipment.

When 2011-13

Challenge

The Taylor family has farmed potatoes on in Ely, Cambridgeshire, since the 1800s. The farm’s main focus was on growing premium chip potatoes and 90% of the potatoes grown went to the Irish market. But then the recession hit and the farm lost a lot of money. For Ross Taylor, who took over the farm from his father who retired, and his friend Rod Garnham, something needed to be done to add value to the
product.

An idea was hatched during a skiing holiday in Austria. While deriding the quality of the crisps on offer, Taylor and Garnham wondered why the Taylor farm hadn’t turned to the crisp market. Both believed that the quality of the potato was up to scratch and, after a series of trials, they were confident that they had a product that could go to market. Corkers Crisps were born after a visit to the Speciality Fine Food Fair at Olympia in London. Visitors were impressed and high-end department store Harvey Nicholls became the brand’s first customer.

The crisps hit the market in 2011 and are packaged in bags that reflect both the British way of life and Taylor and Garnham’s life experiences: a guitar, a telephone box, a cricket bat, a mini and a teapot are all featured on the graphics. There are six flavours: sea salt; pork sausage and English mustard; sweet Thai chilli; sea salt and vinegar; Red Leicester and caramelised onion; and sea salt and black pepper.

There has been a steady stream of clients since Corkers Crisps’ hit the market with the brand striking deals with British Airways, Tate, Stenna Line, Waitrose and Harris and Hoole. The brand strategy is to target independents. However, the manufacturing strategy was about to change as the product took off.

Strategy

The farm had been outsourcing manufacturing of the crisps but to gain more control of the process, the decision was made to set up a factory on the site. It wasn’t all plain sailing. “It was a lot harder than we imagined,” said Taylor. “But we wanted to get the product spot on. This would give us control and a real benefit to the business.”

Implementation

Around 18 months ago, Taylor and Garnham began the process of looking for equipment. After scanning the market they came across some crisp machinery for sale. The only snag was that it was in Cyprus. Taylor bid for the kit in an online auction and admits it was a risk.

“I bought it without seeing it,” he recalls. “It was a big gamble as the equipment was not cheap. We then went to Cyprus and thankfully the kit existed. We were converting existing farm buildings into the factory, while the equipment was being shipped.”

A 500m2 space was made ready and, after the planning process, the factory was up and running by Christmas 2012.

Since the start of production, the farm has added more kit. Perhaps the addition that has made the most difference is Ishida weighing and bagging equipment, bought four months ago. It’s this investment that enables the plant to produce 30,000 bags a day. Taylor says that the firm could go much further. “We could do 100,000 bags a day without a problem. The Ishida machines were the best investment we made. That’s transformed the operation.”

Results

So far, the manufacturing site has been a success and Taylor’s drive towards continual improvement means that more investments could be on the way. “We would buy more equipment if it was right for the business. We like shiny things.”

He adds that the project didn’t faze him. “When you’re a farmer, you are not frightened of a project,” he says. “It’s turned out fantastically well. I do not think we could have done it a better way. We are not a business that has a pot of gold so it made things more challenging.”

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