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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Winning formula for perfect cuppa

THERE’S something big brewing at Dalston’s Nestle plant... something that’d fill 20 million mugs a day.

It’s the sort of international ‘something big’ that could only come about in a global marketplace that sees a Swiss giant producing Italian drinks in a factory in a village just a few miles from Carlisle.

That international collaboration has resulted in the surreal situation where food and drinks firm Nestle is now producing its best-selling Cappuccino drinks sachets in Cumbria.

Altogether, a staggering 20 million sachets of drinks are produced in Dalston every week. As well as the Cappuccino brand, Dalston makes Coffeemate and the Aero hot chocolate drink.

The market size is mind-blowing, with the Cumbrian creations sold in 26 countries – 23 in Europe, as well as Canada, Chile and Uruguay.

It’s a Cumbrian success story that looks set to continue, as Nestle’s overall net profits rose eight per cent globally and the firm announced that it was pumping £500m into its UK operations, though much of that is destined for plants in Derbyshire, York and a new UK headquarters near Gatwick.

And the good news doesn’t stop at the factory gate.

All the milk that is spray-dried to create the products is sourced from local farmers – meaning Nestle’s boost to the community reaches far beyond just those who work there.

They feed the factory’s demands with a massive 900,000 litres of milk every week.

Local contractors are also used to carry out work on the site.

It’s a happy formula that has served the plant and the area well for half a century now.

And while the Cappuccino brand is the Dalston factory’s major product and the basis of the factory’s current success, Nestle director David Anderson says there is a strong focus on building capability for the future.

“Given the nature of Nestle, we have markets and international opportunities,” he said.

“We have developed over the years to produce the amount of products that we do.

“As we have gone through those 50 years, one of the key things has been to build up the skills and depth needed on the site

“We run strong training programmes and an apprenticeship scheme. Developing technical know-how and capability on the site is important.”

Sometimes though, expertise needed at the factory has to be brought in from further afield – sometimes other parts of the world.

“One of the challenges we have in this area is attracting new talent,” Mr Anderson added.

“This is something that has meant we have had to sometimes go further afield, outside Cumbria, to attract some of the skills we have needed to progress.

“We try to get the message out that this is a nice area to live. We try to attract talent into Cumbria.”

Workforce traffic is not, however, one way only. Skills honed in Dalston have also been called on in other parts of the world.

That should be of little surprise given Nestle’s long connection with north Cumbria, stretching back to 1928.

Sited on Currock Road where The Plumb Centre now stands, it made dried milk.

Production at Dalston started in 1962, where staff first made sweetened condensed milk.

The factory in Carlisle closed in 1974 and operations became concentrated on the Dalston operation.

A blending plant for cappuccino was installed there in 1996 and work on that front has forged ahead from there. About 60 per cent of all that is made there – going through a process of milk being spray-dried before ingredients are added to it to make the drinks – is now exported across the world.

Staff say they work to the ethos of driving “continuous excellence” in everything they do, with a mindset of creating zero waste. Yet, despite the scale of work that goes on in the factory – with strings of busy production lines and boxes of drinks whizzing along them – many of the plant’s neighbours do not realise what goes on there.

“It’s quite surprising, but not many people realise what we do,” Mr Anderson admitted. “We’ve been here 50 years and continue to invest in the business. We are the main site of our kind in Europe. We’re continually looking to improve the product. Innovation is key to the business. We have a strong team.”

But public awareness of something that the management and workforce at Dalston are keen to address.

The firm is the main sponsor of the successful Dalston Show, one of the best-supported village agricultural shows in Cumbria, and has been for the past 35 years.

Other community work carried out by Nestle staff includes working closely with their neighbours, Caldew School.

The firm also sponsors various sports teams, including youngsters at Dalston Junior Black Reds, the local community football club.

It’s all part of a relationship with the local community that should provide hard-working employees for many years to come.

Cappuccino manager Paul Norris is a perfect example of how Nestle rewards dedication, experience and hard work.

The 45-year-old has climbed the ranks during his 29 years at the factory, starting as an apprentice and working up to senior positions in the engineering side of the plant before progressing to his latest role.

His varied career in technical and production jobs has given him a rounded view of the operation.

“It’s cutting edge technology in the factory,” enthuses Paul. “The number one priority is safety, ensuring production is safe and top quality.

“Doing engineering work has put me in good stead for my production job. I understand what the machines are capable of.”

Like many of north Cumbria’s major employers, a raft of staff at Nestle – including Paul – have notched up a considerable amount of service.

Another is lead operator Brendan Murphy, 44, who has worked at the plant for 15 years.

He said: “I came here because some friends said I should. I’ve seen a lot of changes. There are a lot more computers now and the technology has developed.

“I like the variety of the job. It’s a nice place to come and work.”

  • Since the interview, the position of factory manager at Nestle in Dalston has changed. Martin Scott is now the factory manager. Mr Anderson is now technical director for Nestle Poland.

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