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Rural Economy

Business Case Studies

Report Segment: Copella


Copella is part of PepsiCo, which owns the famous Pepsi brand as well as Walkers Snack Foods and Quaker Oats. Based at the Peake family farm, Copella has emerged from a cottage industry pressing farm apples to make juice, to a multi-million pound enterprise pressing apples, mainly from the local area, to produce a supermarket staple Copella Apple Juice. The factory, still situated on, but now independent to the family run farm, produces mixed fruit drinks as well, importing berries from across Europe. The business operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 2 twelve hour shifts make up the daily routine; 93 staff work at the site, of which more than 60% are front line General and Technical operators, specialists, Key Operators, and 10 Engineers. The staff profile is predominantly male mostly ranging in age from mid twenties to mid forties and the majority of staff live locally. The sector is challenging for teenagers to start in. Clothing (hair net, white coat, ear muffs and toe capped boots are mandatory across the site) and hygiene requirements are strict, working hours are long and the rural location is difficult to access, all of which may deter teenagers.

The food sector stands out as being extremely active in training staff on the job. Whilst there are still some food processing companies relying on unskilled labour, most food companies these days are highly efficient, mostly automated, and requiring highly skilled workers to operate complex and expensive machinery. Where twenty years ago one might have seen a production line of 20 or 30 people watching over a conveyor belt of passing fruit, companies such as Copella have completely mechanised the whole process so that one or two people can run a section on their own. But this obviously requires continuous training and Copella have developed a rigorous approach to staff development ranging from on site buddying for new staff, job mentoring and classroom based courses (including induction course; five day basic training on all key processes; and intermediate training on specific activities).

In addition to the highly structured competence training, Copella have a hygiene, health and safety regime which is embedded in all company activities and of course reinforced by consistent training for all staff.

One area where Copella have been less successful in recruiting staff is in multi-skilled engineers. The profile of an ideal candidate for Copella is someone who is an experienced mechanical engineer and who has upskilled to incorporate electrical engineering into their area of competence. Angela Wood, HR and Training Administrator for the Boxford Site, insists that there is a real lack of multiskilled engineers and that this is something other food and drink processing companies are also looking for. But she has had no success in trying to engage colleges in this discussion. Finding the right contact at the college, ensuring an appropriate learning environment for mature engineers wishing to learn new skills and being able to provide courses to fit around a 24/7 business, which might mean classes in the evening or early morning would enable Copella to find and create the talent pool that they need.