King Canute is best known for turning back the waves. Warburtons, by contrast, just had to raise the ground. And it had the benefit of modern technology.

Its new bakery at Bristol, which officially opened on 30 June, is the latest in a chain designed to give the company national distribution of fresh Warburtons bread.

Historically speaking, it is also the last - the final piece of the jigsaw. National distribution was actually accomplished in September 2007, but this is the company’s 14th bakery, the most modern to date, and it takes some of the pressure off Enfield and Newport.

Built on a greenfield site, the ground had to be raised by 4ft, because it is within the flood plain of the Severn Estuary.

== Room to grow ==

The bakery does have room for expansion, but right now Warburtons is busy creating bigger demand for mainstream 800g white, ensuring that its white Toastie, medium, and extra thick-sliced are coming off at top quality - because ’quality’ is what company chairman Jonathan Warburton guarantees with his signature on every pack.

He tells British Baker: "Of all our £300m investment in the past 15 years, this Bristol bakery is the most impressive. It’s great to start with a greenfield site. The management team code-named the project 112, because its aim was to start trials on the first of the 12th month 2008 - and they actually achieved it one day early on 30 November.

"This bakery is a massive credit to them and takes us even closer in our ambition to ’Paint Britain Red’," says Jonathan Warburton. (That’s Warburtons red of course!) "For Brett [Warburton] and I, this bakery is a milestone, a symbol of what we set out to achieve many years ago, along with Malcom Keat, operations support director, and Robert Higginson, MD.

He continues: "We are currently producing over 80,000 loaves a day. We always start slowly and build up. It’s a quality argument. Our family values and company values are the same: commitment, trust and passion for what we do."

From plans on paper on 1 February to bakery trials on 1 December, with breads coming off the conveyor, was quite a target. It was about getting market share on a national scale, while continuing to innovate with both products and equipment, says Jonathan.

And to illustrate the point, commercial director Roz Cuschieri reveals: "We are putting in another crumpet line at Burnley, which should be operating by December. It will be similar to the one at Enfield. Warburtons is a well-invested family business. Over the past 15 years, we have invested around £300m in new bakeries, including Enfield, Wakefield and Bristol. Our total business investment in the last five years stands at around £500m. This includes investment in new depots, improved production capability and the significant infrastructure associated with our national expansion and continued brand and business growth."

But now the focus is firmly on Bristol. Operations support director Keat tells British Baker: "This bakery has a satellite depot at Newton Abbot. We focus very much on customer service, timing, full quantity and freshness and I believe we are recognised for it. It’s a precursor to why we build bakeries like this. Via Newton Abott, we can deliver as far as Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Bristol.

David Williams is general manager of the Bristol bakery. He says: "I cannot tell you what this site means to us - it gives us an enormous sense of pride. Seventeen months ago, it was field. We started digging in February 2008 and raised the ground. The mainframe was up by June. It was weathered in August and producing in December. We asked Guinness if it was a world record." He and manufacturing manager Clive Strawbridge run the factory.

Executive director Brett Warburton has overseen the whole project. "For the first time, we have enclosed the mixing, dividing and moulding area to improve dough handling," he says. "We shall be making dough in a ’constant temperature’ environment. If it works well, we shall retro-fit it to other bakeries." It is unique to the group, he says, and has evolved out of Tuscany Park, Wakefield, the company’s previous new-build bakery. "We looked back and asked ’What can we do better? What can help us make even more consistent products?’."

Another new addition is the Double Dough Detector, which sends down a beam of light to measure the height of dough in each tin and rejects any double deposits. This prevents the lids coming off later and causing messy spillage.

The salt issue is a perennial challenge, but one Brett is confident Warburtons is meeting." We are working with lower levels of salt than ever before. The dough has got to be right by the time it goes into the tin. I’m confident we will meet the 2012 targets, but we do have concerns, particularly in warm weather. This industry has come a long way. They need to look more at other areas of the food chain."

Eye to the future

Next month, the company will decide whether to manufacture extra products at Bristol. Most likely are a wholemeal and a 400g Danish. Brett says: "It’s like moving into a new house. You have to snag it [iron out initial problems] first. So far, we are delighted."

The choice of project team leader for Bristol was someone outside the industry. Brett says he was at an Institute of Directors function and met Humphrey Walters, who studied leadership and teamwork. This included spending 11 months in a force 10 gale in a yacht race, sailing the wrong way around the world, having never sailed before. Brett chose Walters to put together the 112 team, who delivered right on time.

Inevitably, Warburtons is stronger in its north-west homeland, while Kingsmill leads in the south east and Hovis in the south west. So while much has been achieved, much remains to be done. The company continues to stick to its policy of not discounting loaves. "Price is important, value is more important," stresses Brett.

Like quality, it will not be compromised. But the quality focus is what has built the Warburtons empire.


=== Bristol bakery fact file ===

Bakery: 120,000ft2, with room to grow to 220,000ft2 on 12-acre site near the M4 and M5 motorways

Current output: 7,650 loaves per hour

Staff: 140 including distribution. 80 in the bakery

Equipment so far:

Spooner oven

Ferguson Engineering cooler, final prover and wrapping machinery

Baker Perkins Tweedy mixers first prover and dividers

Spiromatic silos (Benier UK)

Kaak lid handling, depanning, basket storage (Benier UK)

Gudel tin storage

Newsmith conveyors

Dyson bagging machines

100% Omega baskets

Flour: Whitworths


=== Warburtons fact file ===

Company founded: 1876

Turnover: over £498m (2008)

Plants: 14 bakeries

Staff: 4,800 employees

Market: a 32.9% share of total consumer spend on wrapped bread. Target for 2010 is 40%. Warburtons is the UK’s second-largest grocery brand