Supply chain investment helps Wagon Wheels roll

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Neil Grocock, chief supply chain officer of Burton’s Biscuits, tells Malory Davies how the company is leveraging its supply chain to build market share in a mature market.

Burton’s Biscuits is well known for making Jammie Dodgers and Wagon Wheels, but Cadbury’s Fingers? In fact, Burton’s makes all Cadbury’s biscuits under licence – and Maryland Cookies – and is the only major player in the market to focus solely on making biscuits.

And to meet its growth targets it has been investing heavily in its supply chain. The man behind this is chief supply chain officer Neil Grocock, who joined Burton’s in July 2010 after 23 years working in supply chain at Unilever.

St Albans-based Burton’s has been owned by CIBC and Apollo Global Management since 2009 and now has annual sales of more than £340m.

It employs over 2,200 people around the UK, in three main manufacturing facilities in Llantarnam, Edinburgh and Blackpool, a chocolate refinery in Moreton and central distribution hub in Liverpool.

Burton’s went through a total review of its business a couple of years ago, says Grocock, and put in place a four year plan to double its profitability by 2014.
“We have exceeded our expectations,” he says. “We are now in our 11th consecutive quarter of growth.”

As well as growth in the UK, where it has now reached ten per cent market share, Burton’s has seen expansion in the US and Canada through partnerships with WalMart and Loblaws. Perhaps more surprising has been the success of Wagon Wheels in Russia.

As a result, international sales now account for 50 per cent of Burton’s business, and expansion in China is on the agenda.

A key part of the transformation process has been a £12.5m investment across the manufacturing operations to enhance production, warehousing and logistics capabilities.

Grocock says much of the investment has been targeted at strengthening its “power brands” – Jammie Dodgers, Wagon Wheels and Cadbury’s.

Chocolate is a key ingredient in Burton’s products. It is made at a refinery at Moreton on the Wirral and delivered as a bulk liquid to the other production sites. A key part of the programme was a £1.5m investment in new chocolate capabilities at Moreton. Some £7m was invested in new production lines at its Edinburgh site.

Chocolate, of course, needs careful looking after – too warm and it develops a fat bloom, too cold or humid and it develops a sugar bloom.

Burton’s facilities in Llantarnam and Blackpool have also benefited from investments aimed at improving manufacturing processes and introducing new technology.
“Investing in our core logistic capabilities is part of a broader, brand-focused strategy we’ve adopted which enables us to align our skills, resources and efforts towards more impactful results.”

As well as the investments in its own facilities, Burton’s has also signed a five year partnership deal with DHL Supply Chain which will see it move into a consolidated warehousing facility at G.Park Liverpool. 

Grocock says that prior to this deal, Burton’s had five warehouses across two locations at Knowsley near Liverpool. Some of the sites were managed in-house, while DHL managed others.

The DHL deal means that Burton’s now has a single point logistics operation at a purpose-built facility in Liverpool.

“As a strategic partner, DHL’s experience and expertise is proving invaluable in helping us achieve our bottom-line objectives,” says Grocock.

Prior to joining Burton’s, Grocock spend 23 years at Unilever in a range of roles that included VP global supply chain, spreads, dressings and ice cream; and strategy director, global supply chain.

Moving to Burton’s was an opportunity to join a business with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, he says. The impact of globalisation is felt across the supply chain as the company not only sells internationally, but sources globally.

“It’s an incredibly competitive marketplace. We have some great iconic brands – but we have to leverage our supply chain to win in the marketplace.”

Grocock is only too aware that biscuits are seen as a mature market. But he points out that Burton’s has grown consistently over the past few years, highlighting the focus on providing quality and service.

“You can win in mature markets,” he says.

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