EADT Business of the Year Muntons has all the winning ingredients
Earlier this month, Stowmarket-based malt and malted ingredients firm Muntons was named Business of the Year at the 2015 EADT Business Awards. Ross Bentley met managing director Alan Ridealgh to find out how the good news has been received.
When I meet Alan Ridealgh, managing director of Muntons, he is in a buoyant mood, so much so that he offers me a packet of Maltesers.
I am assured this is not an attempt to bribe a journalist but just one example of the many products that contain ingredients generated by the Stowmarket malt producer.
Mr Ridealgh’s obvious good mood has much to do with the company being named the East Anglian Daily Times Business of the Year at a glittering awards ceremony earlier this month.
“We were absolutely delighted,” he said. “What came through from the judges’ point of view was the passion. I know it is a word that is often overused but we really are passionate about malt, malt ingredients and indeed Muntons as a business.”
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Sitting down with Mr Ridealgh that passion become obvious very quickly. “What”, I ask, “is the secret of Muntons’ success?”
“It’s about having the right people in place and they start to drive it – they come up with the decisions, they have the ideas. It’s about creating an atmosphere where people can come with up with ideas,” is the reply.
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We are seated in a meeting room in the company’s plush Centre of Excellence. The centre is one of those ideas Mr Ridealgh was talking about. What started as a seed of a concept is now at the centre of Muntons’ operations. The company may be an established Suffolk name - more than 90 years-old - but it is in the Centre of Excellence that new ingredients, flavours and textures are being developed, and used to build new products and markets.
“Building the centre four years ago was a major statement as a business –sending the message out that we are serious about this,” continued Mr Ridealgh.
“No-one else has really done it the way we have done it. If you think four years ago it was a difficult time financially for the country and, in fact, the world, so to make the decision to spend half a million pounds at that time on something as forward-looking and visionary as this was actually quite a statement.”
He added: “We started off saying what is the least we can do to achieve the objective we want in terms of having a professional centre suitable to bring customers in. As we went through that process, we realised we wanted to make a statement, we wanted something that is going to be here for the next 20 years and still look really good, and help us generate new and creative ways of using our ingredients.”
Key to the success of the centre is that it means the company no longer has to carry out its trials in the factory – a process which used to waste valuable production capacity. Instead, today the Centre of Excellence has a dedicated kitchen where development work can be done on a small scale.
“It means we can play more with less risk,” said Mr Ridealgh. “The more we play, the more we learn and the more we get enthusiastic, and the more we can share that enthusiasm with our customers.
“The lovely thing about this centre is we used to talk to manufacturers about new ideas, now we give them something to try. It’s given us a whole new dynamic to the process.” I am introduced to Andy Fuller, the senior product development technologist at the company who enters the room carrying a Malteser Cake – a recent innovation to hit the shelves that was developed here.
Andy explained: “We work closely with the manufacturers and try and offer finished solutions – with the Malteser Cake we delivered presentations to the makers and showed them the colours, flavours and textures you can get using our ingredients.”
A lot Muntons customers use the Centre of Excellence to develop their products. Greene King recently produced a beer where the early stages of the development were carried out at the Stowmarket site. Other brewers have done the same. Flour millers have produced blends of flours here while large-sized food businesses have chosen new ingredients on the back of work carried out in the centre.
I enjoy talking to Mr Fuller, as the conversation revolves around food – one of my favourite subjects.
“Soreen wanted to develop a version of their Malt Loaf that could be toasted,” he continued. “They wanted all the flavour characteristics of malt loaf but they wanted a malt loaf that you can cut and put in the toaster. We worked with them to get the flavour profile right - we used some of our flavour ingredients in that and it worked really well.
“Some our malt extracts also lend themselves particularly well to Christmas flavours like Christmas cakes – they bring out the fruit flavours, and produce rich colours. We can develop concepts around them to encourage producers to use those ingredients in their next round of launches for Christmas. We look at least 12 months in advance.”
Muntons is not just looking forward in time but in recent years has also spread its operation out geographically. One key market for the company is south-east Asia where malt ingredients have become very popular. So much so that Muntons has also opened a development centre in Bangkok to enable it to grow its market share in the region. “As we began to understand the flavour differences that we wanted in south-east Asia, we realised we had to be nearer that market, so we made a decision to form a partnership with our distributor in Thailand” said Mr Ridealgh.
“We work as a team - sometimes something produced in Stowmarket will be suitable for the Asian market and other times something produced in Bangkok will spin off into the UK.
“That has been a journey we started ten years ago. It was about identifying that there is a big market there, what we can do best to supply it but supply it in a way that the customer wants it.”
Like a lot of Muntons’ initiatives, the investment in Asia is long-term proposal. Alan says the way the company is structured – it’s a family owned business and the balance is with long-term shareholders made up of staff and former staff – enables it to commit to ventures of this kind.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to do day-to-day. Mr Ridealgh is a busy man, I’m out of Maltesers, the interview is over. I have time for one more question.
“What about the future?” I ask.
“We have to maintain what we are doing, so we can move onto the next level. We want to carry on working with our customers and suppliers, coming up with new ideas, and growing,” he replied.