Hand-crafted chocolate maker Friars, based in Cumbria, has announced it has secured backing by the Made Smarter organisation, a UK national industrial digitalisation movement to drive productivity and growth of manufacturing industries to give them a competitive edge on the global market.
Backed by world-renowned businesses and working in partnership with the UK government, Made Smarter’s expertise and financial support will enable Friars to increase its output from 30kg per day to 250kg - an increase of 733% - with significant scope to scale up production.
The Lake District firm said it started making its own brand of premium chocolates by hand last year, after nearly 100 years of retailing confectionery products. To meet increasing demand and to accelerate growth, the third-generation family business is adopting a process solution which will automate the labour intensive element of its production line while retaining key handcrafted elements.
Friars estimates that automaton will make it almost three times cheaper to produce the same amount and maintain a consistent quality.
The business, which started life as a cafe and catering firm in 1927 before fully moving into retail in the 1970s with two shops in Keswick and Ambleside selling confectionery and giftware, also plans to invest in a new factory and distribution centre near to the motorway in Penrith.
Managing Director Michael Webster, who runs the business with his brother Richard, said: “Our ambition is to become one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of quality chocolates, but in order to do this we need to look to technology to enable us to scale up our operation while producing the highest quality possible.
“Made Smarter’s support and advice has accelerated and de-risked our investment in process automation technology which will take the brakes off our growth plans and transform our business.”
Donna Edwards, North West Adoption Programme Director at Made Smarter, said: “Friars is a superb example of a Made Smarter-supported business which has identified the value technology can bring to its operations.
“By combining automation technology with its handcrafted techniques, Friars is forecasting significant growth, and productivity and efficiency gains.”