Making Aunt Bessie lean and mean

Looking at the brand logo you might think that the sturdy figure of Aunt Bessie suggests a liking for her own Yorkshire puddings. Yet Aunt Bessie takes the concept of lean much more seriously for her manufacturing processes. 

From state-of-the art food facilities in Hull, the Aunt Bessies brand of frozen food products has taken the market by storm. The fastest growing food brand in the UK, Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire Puddings are manufactured to the tune of 6 million per day in addition to the production of a wide range of other food products including stuffing balls, pancakes, biscuits, sponges, pies, desserts and hot puddings.

With her hair tied in an old-fashioned bun, Aunt Bessie seems to have been with us since we were kids, yet in reality the brand was only launched in 1995. Today the Aunt Bessie's brand has a retail value in excess of 168 million (2007) and an annual growth rate of over 15%, compared to just 1.1%, the average across the frozen food sector. Aunt Bessies continues to aim high, believing that the brand will reach 250 million in 2012 as consumer demand for traditional, additive free and high-quality convenient foods continues to grow.  

Success doesn't happen by accident

In 2004 Tryton Foods (as the company was previously known), embarked on a programme of Continuous Improvement, creating a single change agenda which was established as a core business process across all management levels. To underpin the programme, Aunt Bessies decided to measure and use overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) as the vehicle to identify losses and drive improvements.

The business drivers for the Operational Excellence programme included:

  • Survival of the Fittest
  • Rising input costs
  • Margin erosion through retailer pressure
  • Growth, driving the need for increased flexibility
  • Pace of innovation increasing
  • Adoption of new technologies
  • Driving a culture of change
  • Vehicle to break inertia & encourage development

 The Idhammar OEE System was chosen and installed across the Hull operational sites for Aunt Bessies in-house manufacturing. Stuart Drysdale, General Manager of Operations at Aunt Bessies explains; We chose the Idhammar OEE System for three reasons; firstly that it had a proven track record in the food industry. Secondly because it had many of the features we were looking for to support drill-down analysis, reporting and continuous improvement monitoring. Thirdly, despite its extensive functionality, the straight-forward user interface allows the system to be used by anyone in the plant and further supports our culture of ownership and responsibility. 

Aunt Bessies approach

Some of the key elements of Aunt Bessie's Operational Excellence programme include:

  • Consistent use of process data - using OEE to report, review, act
  • Use TPM single-point lessons - short one-page documents focused on training for one specific topic
  • Provide facilities such as shop floor meeting rooms, make time and provide support through shop-floor facilitators
  • Establish clear priorities, driven by the major losses identified by OEE
  • Use teams to establish new processes and standards and to pilot them before rolling them out across the factory


The following chart shows actual OEE performance improvements across a range of production lines at Aunt Bessies between August 2006 and August 2007. Each 1% improvement corresponds to savings to the bottom line which can be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Line: Sasib1. Increase in OEE in over 12 months: +38%.

Line: Sasib2. Increase in OEE in over 12 months: +22%.

Line: Sasib3 Increase in OEE in over 12 months: +24%.

Line: Gyro1. Increase in OEE in over 12 months: +14%.

Line: Gyro2. Increase in OEE in over 12 months: ++28%

Line: Pie Line. Increase in OEE in over 12 months: +37%

Line: Ishida. Increase in OEE in over 12 months: +47%.

Beyond an OEE score

One of the rules at Aunt Bessies is to convert losses to cash in order to make them visible. In the same way, they are able to measure the profitability improvements gained by each percentage improvement in OEE. As Stuart Drysdale concludes; Using OEE as part of our Operational Excellence Programme is far more than a theoretical exercise. It really does highlight losses, drive our improvement agenda and in the end lead to improved effectiveness, a better working environment and savings to the bottom line. The company is already planning to extend the consistent use of OEE across its production base in the near future.

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