Me and my factory

Glanbia gears up production to meet rising demand

Glanbia boss Alex Baker: gearing up to meet rising demand

Glanbia Performance Nutrition’s Alex Baker tells Noli Dinkovski how his sports nutrition production site is meeting growing demand.

As general manager, I am in charge of the day-to-day running of this site. Glanbia Performance Nutrition (GPN) has its headquarters in the US, and I'm responsible for managing the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) region.

To be fair, I somewhat fell into the food industry. I studied biology at university, and wanted to go into research. However, due to a lack of opportunities in that area, I took a job as a lab technician for a food company.

A number of technical roles led me to the position of group technical manager at Northumbrian Fine Foods. While I was there, a decision was made to sell off some of the less profitable parts of the business, and two of the factories were sold in a management buyout. The factory in Gateshead needed a general manager, so the new bosses asked me.

I was in my late 20s at the time, and I went through the steepest learning curve in my whole career. It was my first experience of managing a multi-skilled, multi-disciplined team, and the complexities that come with that.

Similar roles at Pride Valley Foods and Mission Foods followed, and at the start of 2015 I was offered the general manager position at GPN. At the time, I knew very little about the company, but I quickly realised that I was dealing with a major player in a rapidly-growing market.

Whereas before I had worked for a more traditional food company, GPN isn’t so beholden to retailer demands. The sports nutrition market is more about establishing a direct relationship with the end consumer.

The parent Glanbia company originated as a dairy business in Ireland, and development into nutritional products was a logical progression. Whey is one of the key elements of many of the products we sell.

Ready-to-mix (back to top)

We make nutritional ready-to-mix powders and ready-to-eat bars under a number of brand names, and we also contract manufacture. Our five production lines run continuously, with deep cleaning taking place over the weekend.

Our market share is as much as 90% in certain regions, and we are getting some real penetration in some emerging markets, such as Asia, Australia and parts of Europe such as Spain.

I've worked in some technologically demanding plants, but I've never worked with products as complex as these. They contain a number of diverse components that we have to be very precise with.

You have to remember that the buyers of our products tend to be professional sports people who take their nutrition and health very seriously. They take our products as part of planned and structured regime, and they expect them to help improve performance. That’s one reason why we carry Informed Choice and Informed Sports accreditation, which both carry the ISO 17025 standard for analytical testing.

While we are clearly in a rapidly growing market, we have to be responsible for the way we market our products. We believe we can add value to healthy eating and exercise, and not serve as a replacement to that.

We have to be cognisant of the fact we are a global company, but I do have autonomy over how I want to direct the site to achieve the overall business aims. We continually invest in the business two years ago, for instance, we spent £2M on a suite of development laboratories. And they are very busy. Last year alone, they created 450 new products.

Another example of our investment is in foreign body control. We've added X-ray technology to our machines, which was really expensive, but we feel it’s important to have the additional cover. It works by X-raying the product, and if it picks up unusual colouration, rejects it.

Investment in the pipeline (back to top)

There is investment in the pipeline as well. We are growing our capacity this year, and will be adding new machinery where we see fit.

The biggest challenge for us as a business is remaining close to the consumer, in an ever more complex market. There is a lot of ill-informed information about nutrition on the internet these days, and part of our role is to deal with that speculation. To help consumers, we run two-day sports nutrition courses, which are held in venues around the world.

Being close to the consumers is a two-way process, however, and we have brand advocates out there who help us understand what's going on in the market.

All in all, I believe our commitment to quality and integrity, both in our materials and our processes, helped us win Ambient Manufacturing Company of the Year at the 2015 Food Manufacture Excellence Awards. It is a real accolade for the business and the people that have made our success a reality over the years. I am proud of the team here.

Our business is fast paced and growing year-on-year. We are always looking for ways to expand our portfolio of products and the capabilities of our business units. Our desire is to double the size of GPN over the next three years, and I truly believe it will come to pass.

Our exclusive online gallery will let you find out more about Glanbia and how it produces sports nutrition powders.

Personal (back to top)

NAME: Alex Baker

AGE: 43

DOMESTICS: I live with my partner Kelly just outside the city of Durham.

OUTSIDE WORK: I'm a long-suffering Sunderland FC season ticket holder. Despite the club’s lack of success, I love spending time with my son and friends at the games.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: I have enjoyed a decent career, but for me it is about the people I have assembled around myself. My greatest pleasure has always been working with and developing capable teams.

ADVICE TO YOUNGER SELF: I wouldn't want to sway my younger self. The trips and falls have had as much influence over me as the good times, so I wouldn't want to change that. What I will say is be strong in your convictions and enjoy the good moments.

 

Factory facts
  • Location: Unit 3, Romaldkirk Road, Riverside Park, Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire. TS2 1XA
  • Size: 7,430m2
  • Turnover: 923M (2015, for total GPN)
  • Main products: sports nutrition powders, weight management and functional food powders and bars. Brands include Optimum Nutrition, BSN, ABB, Nutramino, Isopure and Think Thin.
  • Customers: Major retailers, health food stores and direct-to-consumer channels.
  • No of production lines: Five.
  • Factory output: More than 2,000t of bars and 8,500t of powders a year.

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