Andrew Jones has not been a bakery man all his life. In fact, until seven years ago, the MD of Swansea-based Mono Equipment, which scooped the prize for Bakery Supplier of the Year at the 2010 Bakery Industry Awards, worked in the automotive industry.

But he says it is this experience which helped him boost the fortunes of Mono Equipment, which supplies items such as rack, deck and convection ovens, dough processors and confectionery depositors to both supermarket in-store bakeries and independent high street bakers. "Working in manufacturing in the automotive sector allowed me to bring ’lean principles’ into the bakery manufacturing sector," he says.

Lean manufacturing, pioneered by Toyota, involves going back to basics and stripping out all unnecessary processes. Last year, the 60-year-old Mono revamped its factory, with the dual aims of better meeting the needs of its customers and making the processes more efficient. "The factory is now streamlined and we have adopted lean principles at the production facility, which means we have become a lot more competitive," says Jones.

This was just one of the factors that helped Mono Equipment on its journey to BIA victory, according to the judges. The products themselves have also received attention. "We have taken a good look at our products from a design perspective and gone back to some very solid principles of dough processing," Jones says.

In addition, after listening to customers, Mono’s new equipment has been designed to be as energy-efficient as possible. "We have done quite a lot with our oven range just recently," says Jones. "Energy efficiency is key to us moving forward and much of the BIA application was based on the features and benefits of our new oven controller. We have reduced energy consumption considerably in the whole of the range."

Jones acknowledges Mono had to respond to increasing competition from European manufacturers. "We had lost a little ground to our European competitors, but we have really come back strongly in recent years."

The current business has 165 staff based in its Swansea factory, which is complete with R&D facilities. The company also has a sales force based regionally throughout the UK and split to serve multiple retailers and independent high street bakers. Jones says the company has products that are versatile and "cut across both markets".

Many manufacturing firms have been hit hard by the recession of the past three years, but Jones says that while Mono was initially hit hard by a "sharp slowdown", business picked up swiftly and there have even been benefits. "The macro-economics of the recession mean British manufacturers are far more competitive against their European counterparts because of the currency exchange rate," he says. "We are winning a lot more work now against our European competitors."

In fact, export now makes up approximately 25% of the company’s turnover. Jones is keen to further tap this mine and believes winning the award last year will help this ambition. While he acknowledges it is difficult to make a direct link, sales have increased since the award was made, he says. "We have marketed the award extensively to our overseas customer base and we have seen a pick-up in our sales, so it has given us a lot of credibility in the overseas market as well as the UK."

The judges’ verdict

The judges cited Mono’s recent restructuring of its factory to ensure it delivered "the best possible quality first time, every time" as a solid demonstration of the firm’s understanding of its customers’ needs. They were also impressed by the way in which new products were engineered to be as environmentally-friendly as possible, with the latest energy-saving functions. This, they felt, would benefit all of Mono’s customers.

Claims to fame

It is not often that bakery equipment manufacturers can make a royal claim to fame, but in July it was revealed that the oven used to bake the wedding cake of Prince William and Kate Middleton was none other than a Mono Equipment oven. The Harmony Modular Deck Oven was used by cake-maker Fiona Cairns, who made the eight-tier wedding cake for the Royal Wedding in April. "We relished the challenge of producing a cake fit for a future King and Queen," says Cairns.

And that is not only Mono Equipment’s claim to fame. The company was also recently featured on the BBC series The Apprentice for the week nine task ’The Biscuit’. Jones says he was very excited to be approached by the production company Talkback Thames. "Candidates from teams Venture and Logic were sent by Lord Sugar to our test bakeries in Swansea, along with board members Nick Hewer and Karren Brady, to develop a biscuit which they then had to pitch to Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose," says Jones.

The contestants used Mono Equipment’s range of mixers, eco-touch ovens, confectionery depositors and chocolate sprayers to produce the biscuits, which were sent to the respective team members in London who had been working on the product packaging. "This was an exciting time for Mono Equipment and the whole day was a great success after weeks of planning and preparation," says Jones.

On transition into the food industry

Jones says: "I have absolutely loved my time in the bakery sector, working together with both the customers and the suppliers of raw materials to ensure the consumer gets a great product. It is a great sector to be involved in."

On what it takes to win a BIA award

"Probably listening to our customers and developing products in line with their needs is the most important thing," says Jones. "This applies with national accounts, but also respecting the needs of the independent baker."

He reckons the development of the new Mono Equipment range is probably his biggest achievement and he is particularly proud of Mono’s new oven controller (pictured below). "It’s very intuitive and it enables both standardisation of a product range, as well as flexibility in the menu. Our revamped bread plant is a true mixture of innovation and heritage offering the chance to make traditional breads using cutting-edge technology."

BIA 2011 is fast approaching

Don’t miss out on the biggest event in the baking industry calendar. The Baking Industry Awards 2011 take place at the Park Lane Hilton, London, on 7 September. There are just a handful of seats remaining, so book now to avoid disappointment. Email or call 01293 846593 to attend a top-notch networking event with three-course meal and entertainment.