A move from its long-established town centre home to a substantially larger bakery on the outskirts of Falkirk has provided retail and wholesale baker Mathiesons not only with “a totally compliant food manufacturing environment” but also with a completely new perspective on the marketplace.

The 34 outlet retail baker, which also supplies wholesale customers across Scotland, has moved out of its former 18,000sq ft Williamson Street bakery. Space there was at a distinct premium and opportunities for new product development (NPD) were consequently limited. But the company’s new 47,000sq ft premises present no such constraints.

“This gives us a chance to raise our heads – to look at the marketplace and at the opportunities out there,” declares MD George Stevenson. “That will drive the way we look at NPD.” However, the first priority for the family business is to assimilate the 100 staff into their new home. “We do have to bed in a lot of new standards and processes, because it’s a big change for everybody,” he observes.

The transfer of operations from Williamson Street began in February and was completed during early March, although preparations had been taking place since the site was first identified in 2004. “As soon as I saw the building, I thought ‘this will work’,” recalls Mr Stevenson. Architects focused on ways of achieving regulatory compliance but, in broad terms, the building’s existing template fitted with Mathiesons’ own needs, he says.

Lifting the load

The site on Falkirk’s Central Business Park was formerly occupied by data storage device manufacturer Exabyte. The bakery firm took it over in August of last year and orchestrated a couple of significant changes to the fabric of the building, including the addition of a loading bay with docks for six vehicles and sufficient space to unload under cover. The loading/unloading area at Williamson Street was “very tight” and so this represents “a big step forward”, according to Mr Stevenson.

The other major change was to incorporate into the internal design a corridor that completely encircles the main bakery production area. As a result, deliveries from outside can be effected without anyone having to step into the main production core. There is even a specific door through which supplies of meat enter the production area. “To my mind, it’s as good as you can get (in terms of segregation),” states Mr Stevenson.

This “inner and outer” approach to the bakery design also means that a piece of equipment requiring maintenance or repair can be transferred to its own special room to avoid disturbing or compromising the production process. Furthermore, a room has been set aside on the outer band of the building for the accumulation of packaging and food wastes. These can now be collected directly from outside.

For Mathiesons, the move to new premises has underlined the extent to which space – or rather, the lack of it – had been the company’s enemy at Williamson Street. For example, the fully-racked stores area at Central Business Park offers more than 20 times the capacity that was available at the previous bakery.

Mr Stevenson comments: “We didn’t have any racking to speak of at the other bakery – it was all storage on pallets – so this will make such a difference.” Whereas, previously, suppliers delivered to individual shops two or three times each week, they will now be able to make a single delivery in bulk to the bakery for onward supply to its 25 retail outlets, which are spread across the centre and east of Scotland. The change will mean a significant reduction in distribution costs.

The luxury of space is also apparent within the production core of the bakery. For example, Mathiesons has been able to afford its confectionery operation a separate and far larger area with dedicated wash-up section and blast freezer transferred from the Williamson Street bakery. Sandwich ingredients are directed from the stores into a holding room, ready to be drawn off by sandwich-making staff as required. And with food safety in mind, personnel involved in making sandwiches, cream products and confectionery have their own changing rooms to reflect the products’ higher-risk status.

The extra office space on both floors of the building has enabled Mathiesons to incorporate an off-the-job craft training centre kitted out with some small items of equipment. Mr Stevenson acknowledges the merits of on-the-job training, but believes a training room separate from the main production area “is essential for effective delivery of underpinning knowledge”.

Inherited wealth

As well as the space available to Mathiesons at Central Business Park, the company has also reaped some benefit from the sensitivity of the production processes operated by its predecessor at the site, Exabyte. “Thanks to the previous tenant having a requirement for constant control of air temperature and humidity levels, we have inherited a very good system,” observes Mr Stevenson.

Another plus point is undoubtedly the bakery’s location – turn right after the nearby Kincardine Bridge, which crosses the Firth of Forth, and you are in the midst of Central Scotland’s motorway network. “It’s a big advantage for us in terms of expansion and distribution,” says Mr Stevenson.

Mathiesons has set up a retail outlet at the plant to attract trade not only from the road but also from the business park itself where, for example, a nearby call centre employs around 750 people. The shop is sited next to the bakery’s canteen and will also cater for staff needs.

According to Mr Stevenson, the decision to establish this new and substantially larger bakery represents “a commitment from the family that there is a strong future for baking in Scotland”. It is also a massive commitment to the company’s 450-plus workforce spread across the bakery, 25 retail outlets and nine restaurants/cafés stretching from Elgin in the north to Gretna in the south. Indeed, the move is thought likely to create up to 24 new jobs.

Including site purchase, the firm has invested a total of more than £4m in the project, with around £600,000 being ploughed into an array of new equipment including three mixers, three retarder provers, a prover, and four Sveba Dahlen ovens. “We went for new ovens because of the age of the models at Williamson Street and because of the cost of dismantling and transferring them,” explains Mr Stevenson. The company has also bought a new Rondo Doge puff pastry machine for savouries, all of which are dispatched frozen for bake-off at the retail outlets. From the old bakery, the company has moved across a reel oven, roll plant, bread plant, hot plates and a doughnut maker.

For the moment, production will focus on those goods for which the firm has already established a reputation. Noting that its top seller is the Scotch pie, Mr Stevenson adds with pride: “We have won more gold medals than any other baker in the world for our Scotch pies.”

Sweet and savoury

The firm’s other leading savoury products include bridies, sausage rolls, cheese & onion pies and steak bakes, while its vanguard confectionery products include éclairs and vanilla slices. Mathiesons is also known for its range of speciality breads, rolls, cakes and morning goods.

One product area likely to benefit more than most from the move to new premises is sandwiches. Mr Stevenson explains.

The Williamson Street bakery served the family firm for over seven decades and provided director Donald Mathieson with his first job on leaving bakery college well over 40 years ago. “There are bound to be memories and a sense of nostalgia,” says Mr Stevenson, “but we have no regrets about the move. The new bakery re-sets the bar in terms of standards, operating procedures and working environment – the conditions for producing quality products.”

Company turnover of around £8.5m per annum had been constrained by the size and shape of the Williamson Street bakery. Mr Stevenson asserts: “This move allows us to get back on the growth trail.”

- Coinciding with its move, the firm has changed its name from R. Mathieson and Sons to Mathiesons Bakeries.