Operating from three different factories on the same site in the space of less than two years is not an exercise Aulds managing director Alan Marr would like to repeat. But he recognises the experience has enabled his company to hone the design of its latest £7m production base to the specific current and future needs of its frozen desserts business.

Aulds (Food), part of the Aulds group of companies, had been building a solid and growing reputation for its frozen desserts when, in September 2005, fire wiped out its 12-year-old production facility at Inchinnan Business Park, close to Glasgow airport. Within two months, to general amazement and admiration, the company had restarted production on the same site from a "semi-permanent" 20,000sq ft temperature-controlled facility constructed by De Boer, a firm specialising in temporary accommodation. The building was not constructed in a conventional way and therefore did not provide the company with the scope to install "hot works", such as ovens, with production of bakery components therefore transferring to Aulds’ established headquarters in Greenock. Furthermore, the facility represented an obstacle to growth.

"Customers were amazed at what we had achieved following the fire, but the building was still seen as temporary and they were reluctant to increase their levels of business with us," Marr explains. "And if you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards."

Almost in the same breath, however, Marr acknowledges that the now-dismantled £2m temporary facility "saved our frozen desserts business". The experience gained from its construction also proved invaluable in the designing of the latest facility unveiled in May this year. "We learned so much," he says. "What De Boer created opened our eyes to other possibilities."

The vogue in the baking industry favours a ’compartmentalised’ interior design with banks of fridges/freezers in the production area and air conditioning equipment dominating the ceiling space. But without any experience of designing a production unit for a baking business, De Boer opted to put the air conditioning kit on the outside of the building, thereby leaving Aulds with an open internal space punctuated by only two pillars. "It gives you a wonderful line of sight, and is an easy area to temperature control and manage," says Marr.

principles of design

Similar principles have been adopted in the design of the latest facility. External locations have been found not only for the air conditioning equipment but also for the factory’s refrigeration capacity. And the freezer units are mobile for additional flexibility. The interior of the facility is split into four sections, linked by a corridor running along the upper storey of the building to provide easy and exclusive access for staff working in each of the different areas.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, these areas are separated by firewalls. "We worked very closely with the insurance company to ensure that the layout was efficient, and we maximised safety," says Marr. As a result, Aulds’ insurance premiums have come down.

The new factory ticks all the boxes on Aulds’ wish-list: it has an uncluttered, modern look while offering functionality and flexibility, as well as excellent working, changing and break-time conditions for the 190 staff. By maximising the availability of interior space, the company has been able to reduce the overall size of the facility to 35,000sq ft from the pre-fire level of 58,000sq ft.

"Space is expensive," observes Marr. "In the past, we had a lot of high-specification space being used for low-specification purposes, such as storage. We are now fully utilising the production space we have." At the same time, he adds, there is scope to increase current output by up to 50% through implementation of different shift patterns. The same target turnover applies to the new building as to the factory destroyed by fire, he says.

Space has also been won back by Aulds’ decision "not to reinvest in certain areas of the market", according to Marr. The intention is now to reduce the Inchinnan facility’s reliance on retail business and to "focus on our roots in foodservice".

As well as developing its predominantly own-label sales in the UK, Aulds is targeting significant growth in exports to continental Europe. Even before the fire, product had been shipped to Ireland and the Netherlands; since then, the company has dispatched goods to several other countries, including Belgium and, most recently, Portugal. The company has attended a number of exhibitions in mainland Europe to publicise its general capabilities in frozen desserts production.

Laying claim to being one of the top three manufacturers of frozen desserts in the UK, Aulds is marking out a sales territory at the higher end of the foodservice market. With best-selling products including cheesecakes, gateaux, profiteroles and certain speciality items, the company’s guiding principle is "to make to a quality rather than to a price", says Marr. To this end, the company will continue to rely heavily on the hand-crafting of its products.

Noting that close to £3m of the £7m investment in the Inchinnan facility has been devoted to new equipment purchases, Marr points out that much of this new kit was designed to improve the efficiency of its component manufacturing functions, rather than to automate any of its product finishing operations.

With all the focus on the trials, tribulations and triumphs at Inchinnan over the last couple of years, the impact of the blaze on the sister Thomas Auld & Sons bakery operation in Greenock has not been widely reported. In the aftermath of the fire, the manufacture of frozen desserts components was transferred - along with a number of members of staff - to the company’s already-stretched Brisbane Street headquarters, which produces fresh bakery products for the company’s 44 retail outlets. With the opening of the new Inchinnan factory, there is now the prospect not only of expanding the frozen desserts business itself, but also of "a return to normal" at the Greenock bakery. Marr observes: "This will now allow us to move forward with our future plans for Greenock."