Listening closely to customers, quickly analyzing new situations and acting accordingly are just a few aspects of the philosophy adopted by Cawingredients, one of the biggest contract fillers in the United Kingdom. Up to the start of its new canning line the company had only produced soft drinks in PET bottles – even if Cawthray stresses that it had always been his ambition to enter the market for cans. Just one year has passed since he realized this dream yet he can hardly believe the incredible success his company has achieved with this move. It looks set to continue to build on this success with further new contracts in the can.
The company invested about £22 million in what was to be their fourth line at Leeming Bar in North Yorkshire – including £5 million for the new production shop built especially for this purpose. Maximum flexibility is of prime importance to Cawingredients in this project, as indeed it is in all aspects of its production operation. The bottler ultimately wants to be able to satisfy all of the possible requirements its customers may have regarding both the can format and secondary packaging. Cawthray has great expectations of the new container. “When we started planning, I was convinced that this could lead us down new avenues if we did things properly. And I was not disappointed!”
The best way to ‘do things properly’ is to work with KHS – for Cawthray another new experience. The Dortmund systems provider was chiefly known to him through its first-class can fillers and packaging systems – and not without good reason, as he was to find out. Seemingly calm and collected on the exterior, the 62-year-old waxes positively lyrical about the first result of this new partnership – although in his opinion the two companies only find themselves at the very start of an exciting shared journey as he sees it.
‘Exciting’ is also the right word to describe Andrew Cawthray’s career to date. His family started up in the beverage industry as far back as in 1835 when his great-great-great-grandfather George Barraclough opened a company in Bradford in North England. In the 1960s and 1970s the family business became a real pioneer in its sector under Cawthray’s father Bernard. It all began with the launch of the first non-returnable glass bottle in cooperation with Morrisons, one of Britain’s largest national supermarket chains. At the end of the 1970s the bottler began selling the first plastic bottles in the British Isles and a little later was party to the successful launch of beverage cartons, operating one of the first two such lines in the UK.
The company was also a trailblazer when it comes to PET. In 1979 Barraclough obtained the first license in Europe for the five-point petaloid bottle base in partnership with US concern Continental. The petal-shaped projections and recesses on the base give bottles stability and enable them to stay upright. Back then this meant that the relatively heavy base tray made of a different plastic previously required could now be done away with. However, the company soon discovered that the single-piece PET bottles weren’t yet ready for market; stress cracks kept appearing in the new bases. Many of the containers were therefore useless – which turned out to be a serious problem. The financial consequences were immense; the company eventually had to be sold in late 1987.
»We’ll double our turnover within the next five years.«
Exploring new avenues
Even if the passageway outside his office is adorned with countless photos and artifacts which document his family and company history, Andrew Cawthray is someone who looks to the future. Instead of becoming trapped in the past, he soon showed himself eager to tackle new challenges. In 1990 he founded Macaw Softdrinks, a factory for carbonated beverages measuring 3,000 square meters and employing 27. He mortgaged his house to raise the start-up capital of £180,000. This paid off – 15 years later his company occupied 46,000 square meters of space and had five filling lines and a workforce of 430. He thus built up one of the biggest bottling plants in Great Britain.
In 2005 Andrew Cawthray sold his company for £76 million to Canada’s Cott Corporation. “I had a heart attack before I was even forty,” explains Cawthray. “And after we’d already gone through one serious family crisis, I now wanted to give my wife and two daughters financial security.” He thinks for a moment and then adds, smiling: “And I’d had enough of the UK supermarkets. Apart from our biggest customer at the moment, Aldi, we don’t do business with any UK retailer anymore.” The indomitable entrepreneur, who describes himself as being upstanding yet argumentative, is not a man to compromise. “We never wanted to be the cheapest but have always tried to become the best.”
He couldn’t escape soft drinks, however; in 2010 Cawthray decided to again take fate into his own hands. This time he wanted to combine his job with a more pleasant way of life. He thus established a new business under the name of Cawingredients in Leeming Bar just half-an-hour’s drive from his home. He received much support from all quarters. “The retail trade, our suppliers and the regional administration have done a lot for us. Some of my former managers even left Cott to join us on our new adventure.” His two sons-in-law are also part of the team. One of them is Richard Harrison. Ten years in the company, the 40-year-old is now partner and CEO of Cawingredients and has thus long started to tread in Cawthray’s footsteps. The latter still continues to work as chairman and joint CEO.
Rapid new start
Cawthray’s latest bottling enterprise has also undergone an astounding development – both in terms of size and money. In 2013 Cawingredients was one of the fastest-growing companies of Great Britain. To date there have been no signs whatsoever of this aggressive growth being stunted. “In 2018 we had a turnover of £57 million; this year we’re forecasting £80 million,” states Richard Harrison. Despite this, the two partners are not about to rest on their laurels. “We’re benefiting from the fact that more and more big brands in Europe appear not to want to continue production themselves,” Harrison says. “We’re thus confident that we’ll double our turnover in the next five years.” His father-in-law adds, by way of summary, “We’re simply in the right place at the right time.”
Cawingredients’ two bosses have certainly done everything right regarding their successful start in the canning business. The new KHS line has Cawthray positively ecstatic. To start with, the beverage industry pro is extremely pleased with the technology. “The top-class quality of each and every component simply has us bowled over,” he smiles. “Concerning the filler, one of my experienced colleagues, my former production director (now a consultant to the company), has even said that it’s the best he’s ever seen. That just about says it all.” KHS also earns high praise for the smooth coordination of its processes. “I’ve never seen such fast and efficient installation and commissioning,” emphasizes Cawthray. This could be construed as an excellent introduction for the Dortmund plant engineers. However, what Cawthray almost finds most significant are the close personal ties between the two companies. “We have very high expectations,” he explains. “It’s enormously important to me that we have fast and competent help should any problems arise. And we need short reaction times, especially with service, so that our plant keeps on running and we can satisfy our customers.”
»I’ve never seen such fast commissioning.«
Passion and trust
“When you rely on a new partner, you have to have a common understanding, a common way of working,” claims Harrison. “This is a complex challenge: we want to understand how KHS works, for example, regarding first-level support, with spare parts or conversions. In return KHS has to understand the dynamism of our business and the fact that we’re dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneurs who run their company with passion." In the course of just one year a sense of trust has been formed upon which both partners wish to base and build up their future relations.
Volker Borngräber, head of Regional Center Northern Europe for KHS, is personally committed in this respect. “Andrew knows that he can reach me literally day and night. He’s only taken advantage of this once or twice so far,” he smiles. “And when he rang, I was already so well informed that I could help him out immediately.” The Brits have received Borngräber’s message loud and clear. “We keep our promises. Right from the very start the system supplied all the data and key figures agreed upon in the contract. For KHS, too, the first canning line in Leeming Bar is a particularly successful and pleasing project on all counts.”
“With our new line we’re achieving a performance of 99.9% day in, day out,” Cawthray says happily. “We couldn’t be more pleased – even more so as the system has been running at full capacity right from day one.” As Cawingredients obviously has a good feel for the trends and requirements of the market, the new production shop has been planned and built to allow plenty of room for further expansion – and additional customers.
As long as the clients are queuing up at Cawingredients, one project that keeps having to be postponed owing to lack of capacity will again have to wait: the launch of Cawingredients’ very own product brand.