Launceston-based Kensey Foods feels that the combination of its culture, facilities and the quality of its products helped it win the Bakery Food Manufacturer of the Year category, sponsored by ADM Milling, at the Baking Industry Awards last year. Part of the Samworth Brothers empire, the Cornish firm produces own-label premium chilled desserts and quiches, predominantly for Tesco, as well as a growing range of Cadbury desserts under licence, and is currently the biggest sponge pudding manufacturer in the UK, according to MD Des Kingsley.

Originally built as a savoury pastry bakery for Ginsters, the site now specialises in sweet bakery, with quiche the only savoury product it manufactures. From fresh cream cakes to Continental patisserie and lattice pies, the firm produces the kind of traditional British desserts that never go out of fashion. Its custard tart, one of the "jewels in its crown" and a top seller, with 45 million produced a year, has just been given "iconic status" by Tesco, explains Kingsley.

Unlike other businesses, he says, the recession has had no negative impact on sales in fact, quite the opposite. "We have been actively supporting our customers with promotional activity, due to the current climate, but it has fuelled massive growth for us," says Kingsley. The firm, which employs around 800 staff, has invested heavily in its factory, bringing in additional sponge pudding lines. "Turnover has grown by about 40-50% in the last three years and now stands at around £75m."

Kingsley says the firm had never entered anything like BIA before, but had achieved a couple of successes with product-specific awards, so thought it would give it a go. "In terms of our culture, we are very people-orientated, and we look after our staff very well," he says. "We offer final salary pensions, all our employees get private health insurance and we have our own training academy. These are rarities within our industry, and we believe that’s what gives us the quality differentiation." He adds that the firm is very flexible and focused on the development of its range, launching up to 35 products a year.

Hand-finished goods

When the judges visited the site at Pennygillam Industrial Estate, he says, they were impressed with the quality of the products, the facilities and the firm’s capabilities. "We’ve got big-scale production in some areas, but then we peel fruit and chop fruit by hand," he says. In one part of the site, there may be a dozen people running a line that produces several thousand products an hour, but in another area there will be 250 people hand-finishing cream cakes. And all its products are made from scratch, he says.

It aims to source its ingredients locally where possible, with its cream and milk coming from farms in the West Country, explains Kingsley, who adds that the firm is very much focused on provenance and supporting the local community.

Something else that impressed the judges, he says, was the company’s approach to corporate social responsibility. The firm encourages its employees to volunteer in the local community for example gardening at an old peoples’ home and allows them to do it in work hours. It also supports local charities and does soup runs once a month, delivering food to the homeless. It has even been recognised with an award for the work it has done with people once deemed unemployable, to get them back on track, and is Investors in People-accredited.

Future plans

Looking forward, Kingsley says there are no plans to branch out into other savouries, but the firm is keen to develop its quiche range. It extended its Cadbury range earlier this year, producing nine Cadbury lines alongside approximately 70 own-label products. "The Cadbury range has been phenomenally successful, so we’re looking to develop that, and we’re also looking at other channels for the brand, for example introducing it into restaurants and pubs," he explains.

Within the hot eating desserts category, the Cadbury brand is now number one in the UK, he claims. One line that has achieved particular success is a fresh cream cake with chocolate sauce, chocolate ganache and pieces of Cadbury Flake on top, which is now a Kensey Foods top 10 best-seller, despite only launching in Tesco in April this year. "It has blown us away how successful it has been it has more than doubled the success we thought it would have."

When entering an award like this, says Kingsley, it is important to focus on all aspects of your business, as he feels it was the sum of all parts that enabled the firm to win. He reckons that Kensey has definitely benefited from winning the Bakery Food Manufacturer of the Year award, and says it has been a very positive thing within the group, as well as for its customers and its suppliers. "To be up against some excellent businesses and to actually come out and win was fantastic."

The rest of the staff were absolutely delighted, he adds, and the firm put on a special meal for them the following week. "There is a lot of kudos attached to it [...] so we’ve really tried to capitalise on it," he says, explaining that the firm has put the logo on its corporate clothing, such as polo shirts. "It’s a great award to win, and we’re delighted with the positive impact it has had on our business."

Comment from the sponsor

"We were looking for entrants who had had an exceptional year in terms of product quality and innovation, investment, growth and operational excellence, as well as a business that really distinguished itself from others in the industry. Kensey Foods excelled in all of these areas with a £23m investment; launching 20 new products, including the innovative Cadbury Hot Eating Puddings; establishing a culture based on strong values; developing and motivating staff, including a dedicated NVQ Accredited Academy; and implementing numerous volunteer and charity works in the local community. Without a doubt, despite the fierce competition last year, Kensey Foods was a worthy winner"
Melanie Somerville, ADM Milling

Thoughts on winning

"It’s a great accolade in terms of recognition for everything that our business is about" Des Kingsley