"From our point of view, the idea of controlling our own manufacturing has at times seemed more a dream than a plan. We had always wanted to own an extruder, but the cost seemed out of reach for a relatively young company. The fact that we have achieved it is still hard to believe. It is, however, the result of over twenty years of hard work and long hours. And it is testimony to the commitment and perseverance shown by all the team at Cambrian."
The speaker is Jonathan Davies, standing on the site of a former farm at Pencader in the southwest of Wales. As he looks around, he sees the fruits of a multi-million-dollar project that has rocketed Cambrian Pet Foods into the 21st Century as the owner and operator of one of the newest dry-food production sites in Europe.
The contrast is extraordinary from the company's status of only a few years ago. Officially founded in 1982, it had been based on earlier petfood activities by David Davies, Jonathan's father, who, when the company was first founded, operated from a 1,500-square-foot rented industrial unit in a neighboring town.
Then came the project, bringing a new dryer and extruder from Wenger, in addition to a purpose-built rectangle of manufacturing center, administrative offices and warehousing. Since the extruder's commissioning in early 2005, the company has had a production capacity of six tons/hour in its dry foods department managed by Jonathan. Another son, Richard, manages the canned product business. He also takes care of logistics for deliveries throughout the UK, in the companies own modern fleet of delivery vehicles.
David Davies is the founder of the business and its managing director. He explains that the expansion project has involved a total expenditure of approximately UK Â£3 million, equivalent to about US$5.5 million on 2004 currency exchange values.
"We have worked with the development authority for Wales and with the Welsh Assembly, who had the vision to look at encouraging investments by Welsh companies within Wales," Davies comments. "Their help enabled us to secure the grant from the EU program in recognition of the fact that we were developing a food company.
"This project that has prevented a production bottleneck which we foresaw as early as 2000, allows us to keep pace with sales, manage our growth and has also given us the capability to plan five years ahead." The installation of the C2TX allows flexibility to manufacture a very wide range of product types and formulations to exacting standards".
"In all, the project timetable was to complete in 2Â½ years. The Cambrian team, working closely with a number of long standing suppliers, achieved completion in 2 years. This was done with no disruption to manufacturing or to customer service levels, and while also managing a business with a consistently healthy annual growth rate. The hours were long, but the result was well worth it!"
The big leap
By 2000 it was clear that capacity could soon be over-stretched. The reality in mid-2003 was that the intention of working a single 10-hour daily shift had become an unending series of 24-hour runs from Monday until Friday every week. But the Davies family members were resolutely against any outsourcing of production because they feared it could loosen their grip on product quality. The obvious solution was to invest in another extruder and all the peripherals.
The company's extruder is a PLC-controlled C2TX 8.1 with 300kW motor that the manufacturer's documents rate at up to eight tons/hour. Extrusion is followed by drying in a direct-fired version of a Wenger Series VII, using gas.
"Our production house alone measures 45,000 square feet," Jonathan comments. "The new warehouse is 80,000 square feet, the total site now is around 200,000 square feet of industrial development. With the ancillary services and utilities, it has been a huge undertaking. As an example of what was involved, the electricity supply into the site had to be increased threefold. We are also fortunate in that this is a large site and there is plenty of available land here for further development in the longer term."
"The dryer was the first machine to be installed. That was in March 2004; it was commissioned the following June. By the final months of the same year we had also taken delivery of the C2TX extruder, and its commissioning was completed in April 2005. In other words, we have had little more than a year to adjust to the new working environment. Development has not stopped even now, and the company has also, since the extrusion facility upgrade, invested very heavily in retail packaging capability which will come on line in the Autumn of 2006."
Superpremium rice-based chicken and lamb hypoallergenic diets have been the mainstay of the Gelert range of dry dog foods. The manufacturer insists its Unique Selling Point has been the high quality of the raw materials employed. Whole-grain cereals, along with quality long-grain basmati rice and meat meals, were sourced from only 2-3 selected suppliers.
Jonathan reveals that there will be an extension to the dry foods range, now that the manufacturing and packaging capability are in place to produce it. Cambrian so far has been known mainly as the producer of Gelert foods for dogs. Soon, however, it will introduce a number of innovative new lines, in addition to the private-label work that has proved a strong separate area of activity.
As David Davies comments, "we have always been fortunate with regards to the people we've had working with us in Cambrian, and also we have always had long-standing and quality suppliers and customers. I am now confident that we have the physical infrastructure and foundation firmly in place for a further period of continued growth and development."