Tag Archives: Food & Drink

Clearly Drinks caps off record year with ambitious growth plans

A North East soft drinks manufacturer has seen sales fizz after investing £6million into a new canning line and entering into its best year to date.

Clearly Drinks, which manufactures its own branded products as well as providing a contract bottling service to some of the industry’s biggest names, is expecting revenue to double this year after tripling its capacity to 160 million litres over the last three years.

The continued investment by the company into its award-winning Sunderland plant is part of a wider investment programme which has seen the company expand into new markets, differentiate from its competitors, increase sustainability and launch new product lines.

Led by chief executive Mick Howard, who joined the company in 2018 having spent over 30 years in senior technical roles overseeing the operations of major brands across Africa and Europe including SAB Miller, the investment is the largest in the company’s 135-year history, helping futureproof the firm and bring it in-line with industry standards.

Mick said: “To make such an investment during a pandemic was a brave and courageous decision however it is one that has really paid off for the business. 

“Not only has it helped us bring new products to market but it has also seen our headcount exceed 100 employees and made the business much more agile. It’s a really exciting time for everyone involved with Clearly Drinks.”

Founded in 1885, Clearly Drinks originally started life as Fenwick & Sons before rebranding to Villa Drinks, a name synonymous with the North East which is still remembered fondly by people across the region and who’s iconic ghost sign adverts can still be seen on the gable ends of red-brick buildings across Tyne & Wear.

Today, the company employs over 100 people and remains deep-rooted in the local community by creating apprenticeships for local people through its annual recruitment programme and supporting local charities such as the Salvation Army, as well as maintaining a strong working relationship with Sunderland College.

Mick added: “Having been born and raised in the North East, I know the story behind Villa and was delighted when I was approached to take on the mantle of helping steer this historic business into the 21st century.

“I knew how much the company meant to the local community and its employees, therefore we made it our mission to ensure everyone was on board with our growth plans while continuing to invest in the community and give back to those that have given so much to this business over the past century.”

As well as investing in a state-of-the-art canning line, the company has also purchased a new pasteurisation unit and nitrogen dosing system which have led to the creation of 10 new jobs and helped the company land its largest contract to date with a national wholesaler.

The total investment, which is over £6.5million, was supported by the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project, which provided technical support to help the company integrate the new technology into its business, as well as a £50,000 grant towards the purchase of the new pasteurisation unit.

“The support from SAM was fantastic,” Mick said. “The process was super-simple and allowed us to not only tap into funding to help de-risk our investment somewhat, but also receive the technical expertise required to ensure we maximise the potential of the new equipment and technology.

“For a business like us, in the current landscape, it can be quite hard tapping into funding and support when you’re looking to scale and the team at the SAM Project really went above and beyond to help us.”

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is a £10.9m collaboration between the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the University of Sunderland and the Northern Powerhouse Initiative and Industry, supporting the implementation of product and process development and the introduction of technology within the SME manufacturing base in the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (NE LEP) area.

Roger O’Brien, project and technical lead at the SAM Project, said: “Clearly Drinks is a real North East success story and we’re delighted to have been able to support the company on its incredible growth journey.

“The investment in the new canning line and pasteurisation unit will not only help make the business more sustainable but it will also allow it to realise its potential and continue growing its presence across the globe. We’d like to wish them all the best for the future.”

Vision system helps packaging manufacturer freshen up its act

A fast-growing food packaging manufacturer is the latest business to box clever and benefit from the SAM Project’s electronics and industry 4.0 support.

The experts at SAM recently worked with a North East packaging specialist to help the company understand how electronics technology could improve product quality and eliminate manual visual checks which was adversely affecting their manufacturing line.

After visiting our state-of-the-art test factory at the University of Sunderland, the company – which supplies packaging to a major blue-chip client – was able to trial technologies such as Portable Monitoring Systems and a Vision Systems to understand how they could benefit their production process.

The goal was to eliminate faulty ‘black-spots’ items from its assembly line of transparent packaging, with the end-goal of increasing product quality and output, making the company’s operations more sustainable and profitable.

Working with Richard Eynon, SAM’s Industry 4.0 and Electronics Specialist, the company was able to achieve its goals after being introduced to a Vision System (Balluff), which helped it meet the ever-increasing requirements for maximum quality and greater flexibility within modern production plants.

This new quality checking process – through the implementation of a Vision System – has since resulted in the company eliminating almost every transparent container with inclusions from its production lines.

Richard said: “Each and every company that engages with the SAM Project has a unique challenge, be it improving quality, reducing lead-times or slashing costs and this client was no different”.

“Working with a blue-chip client, the company has to ensure the products it supplies meet the most stringent of standards, placing a huge strain on the company’s quality control teams and leading to heavy lead-times during periods of heavy production”.

“However, after sitting down with the company, we were able to identify how a Vision System was able to detect an issue and subsequently identify faulty products which could be eliminated from the production line using its digital ports (air, paddle…)

“Not only did this take the strain away from the quality control teams but it also helped the company improve product quality by reducing the number of products that could potentially be identified further down the line”.

“As engineers, we love a challenge and we love working with the latest technology, so this was a great project that really got our brains ticking.”

The company has also taken on additional resources as a result of the support it received from Richard and the SAM team and is confident that it is now on track to record zero detectable failures across its entire operation.