06 October 2011
Aimia Foods, Winner, 2011 Best SME, 2011 Most Improved Plant and 2011 Skills Development Award
Aimia Foods celebrated an awards hat-trick this year thanks to its flair for innovation and committment to upskilling staff
Founded in 1981, Aimia employs 250 people across three sites, exports to 11 countries and turns over £50m-plus.
It supplies products for vending machines, food services and retailers, offering a spread of services around its core competencies in food and drink. As well as its own products and those manufactured under licence, it co-packs for blue chip brand holders. It built a dedicated, allergen-free, automated facility for one of these.
Since 2008, Aimia has diversified even further with flair and innovation. It was one of the first producers to eliminate trans fats from its own label, achieving it in six weeks without flavour profile problems.
It has developed the first non-HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil) whitener for the vending market, made from – and actually tasting of – skimmed milk. It has challenged perceptions with the introduction of premium products at a premium price for vending machines. And it has introduced the UK's first triple certified instant coffee – organic, Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance.
It exploits niche markets like no one else. For Aimia, size undoubtedly matters – it's big enough to do things well and small enough to do them quickly. But it's exactly the right size to win Best SME.
Aimia forges strong, lasting customer relationships. For example, a renowned café chain had spun off products (co-packaged by Aimia) into the supermarkets but consumer response was slow. Aimia helped it develop a different, 'edgier' packet that worked in the marketplace but was also better adapted for its own production lines. It does a lot more than assemble.
Even so, to succeed in this fiercely competitive sector, you have to excel in filling efficiently and quickly in a clean environment. Failure could mean penalty clauses. Not that Aimia is worried – with around 400 SKUs, it still shows a stunning 96.7% OTIF. This is a joined-up business that uses flexibility and pace to its own advantage.
Since 2008, it has invested nearly £2m in new machinery, unblocking bottlenecks and speeding packing lines. It has also added new value to key products through an innovative agglomerator that improves their ability to disperse in hot liquids. Customer requirements inevitably change and producers have to continuously adapt and improve. Few, however, move as fast as Aimia.
Equally impressive is its wholesale deployment of its tactical improvement plan. Aimia sets targets for all its production lines and translates them into clear actions, clearly displayed in every corridor.
Everyone knows exactly what they need to do to meet their goals. Virtually every workstation and packing line displays clear metrics for current improvement projects and operators take visitors through their progress with confidence and pride.
Aimia controls its processes tightly, squeezing as much value as possible out of the working day. It took two shifts out of one line by upping the production rate through a combination of good OEE and improved operator practices.
OEE is measured on every line, every hour. Aimia has also developed an innovative visual management tool, Qlikview. It records vital performance metrics like line speed and downtime and displays it as a dashboard, refreshed every 15 minutes. It not only gives an instant view of performance against daily targets, but also collects data for attacking waste in the longer term.
It takes Aimia's asset utilisation to the next level.
Success like this isn't easy: it demands thorough development of the right abilities and attitudes across the board. Aimia wins the Skills Development award for its broad training and communication programme.
It aims to create an empowered workforce with a lively understanding of Aimia's production and commercial issues. Secondly, the programme equips them with the tools and techniques to implement lasting solutions, including internal and external coaching and mentoring, Lean Six Sigma training and recognised industry qualifications. It firmly links qualifications to overall strategy, while providing a clear path to promotion and extra responsibility.
Most of all, it encourages involvement. The weekly kaizen hour is a time to listen, support and foster the thirst for improvement which is the hallmark of the Aimia culture.
Aimia Foods Ltd
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