Last week we went to visit the Lea and Perrins factory. Initially we would have visited the factory earlier in the semester but unfortunately we couldn’t so even though we are now well on the way with out ideas and designs the visit was actually really helpful. We saw the process of maturing, producing and packaging the sauce, with both new innovations and old traditional processes that stem back from the original manufacture of the sauce.

We started the day by adoring our fetching attire, each of us had to put on overalls, high-vis jackets, hair nets, protective shoes, and for the fellas, beard nets. After this we were introduced to Shane Shortman, Heinz’s UK brand manager, he’d come from london to join us on the tour of the factory and answer any marketing and branding type questions we may have had. As well as Martin, who was in charge of quality control at the factory, and would be leading the tour.

The building itself is very impressive and a prime example of a Victorian factory building, it definitely has an ‘original and genuine’ feel about it, with old tiles spelling out ‘Lea & Perrins’ on the back of the building, and a range of overlapping tunnels and passages that channel the flow of manufacture right from the very beginning to the end. The factory itself produces an incredible amount of products, obviously it produces Worcester Sauce, but it also makes and range of flavoured and spices sauces, later we would see the yellow jalapeño hot sauce being bottles, plus ketchup and HP sauce as far as i am aware. And the most remarkable thing is, at least for Worcester sauce,  that every single bottle of Worcester sauce bought anywhere in the world, except for USA, would be make and bottled in this factory, i thought that was incredible, that such a massive, international operation is all produced and packages from this one factory, in Worcester, England.

We began the tour by going down to the basement, descending through a small door under the stairs which you would expect to be a cupboard  but what actually turns out to be a vast dark catacomb filled with barrels. Originally the barrels would have been made from wood, assembled on site, i imagine the whiskey barrel type look. But now they are made from blue pastic, probably for practical and hygienic reasons. Each barrel is filled with either whole onions in vinegar, whole garlic in vinegar, or halved anchovies in salt. They are then sealed and allowed to (for lack of the actual term) mature for up to two years! Once they have reached that point, the barrels are moved to a large room adjacent to the main factory building and the contents are mixed together (im sure with a blend of secret ingredients) in large tanks. The liquid, or sauce, is then separated from the solids in the mixture, which reused in a range of ways*. The sauce then travels back to the main building to be bottles. We walked through the main courtyard where crates of the finished sauces are stacked up ready to be distributed around the world. We went through a number of doors into a large area next to the main courtyard, this was where we saw the bottling process, and if anyone has ever watched ‘How it’s Made’ on the discovery channel, it was very similar! The bottles are delivered downstairs in another area of the basement, and fed upstairs to the room we were not in. Fed single file along a fast moving conveyer belt specifically designed to keep them upright. They were fed into the first machine, which picks them up, one by one, twirls them round, and in the process fills them with sauce using a clever mechanism Martin showed us, which allows them to fil the sauce up to the exact same level every time. Then onto the second machine, where the the bottles have their lids fastened on. Then back onto the conveyer, to be barcoded and led to the next room. In the next room, similar machines work to label the bottles, and then a clever little machine (though actually quite big) folds a neat cardboard tray to house 6 bottles, then wraps the group in a plastic sleeve so that they stay together. We were then showed a number fo quality control and sorting machines which ensure there are no stray metals in the packages, and which sorts them ready for whichever destination they are intended for. After a brief stop at the spot where jamie oliver stood on his tour of the factory, we went to see the first floor where a similar set up is for packaging the larger plastic bottles (intended for large scale uses such as restaurant kitchens etc). An interesting part of this floor was the sealing of the bottles. A process i had read about before where a seal is placed inside the screw lid, and the lid placed on the bottle, then the bottle passes under an electromagnetic field which melts the adhesive in the seal, which then seals it to the top of the bottle instead of the lid*.

We then made our way back to the conference room, where we were allowed to return to our conventional clothing. Then we had a brief Q&A with Martin and Shane. I asked where the glass bottles were made, and although Martin said he wasn’t allowed to tell me (don’t ask me why?) he said that it was within the UK. I was only asking for interest sake to find out if they were manufactured international and shipped to the factory, which would obviously have an impact on the carbon emissions of the bottles themselves. And that concluded our trip, we left feeling like we had been allowed to enter Willy Wonka’s Factory because of all the secrecy and tradition of the place.

* I picked up a couple of things that i thought i could incorporate into my project. Firstly, the solid waste of the mixing process. Because in my designs i am using Applied Colour Labelling, the paint needs to be fired in a kiln in order to form a strong bond with the bottle. I thought that the solid waste could be used as a fuel to burn, so that you wouldn’t need to use additional fuels to heat the furnace. This idea came from when i was initially reading about sugar bagasse, where it can be used as a fuel to power steam furnaces. The second idea is with the electromagnetic sealing, i thought that this could be a solution to the portion control problem i was having with my lid, the seal, if adjusted, could work well in combination with my desire to work with cork, explanations of my final design will follow.