I love watching “how it’s made” type programmes so when Jakemans invited me to visit their factory for a tour I couldn’t wait to go along. Although I’ve always used Jakemans menthol sweets to help soothe my sore throats I’d never really thought about how these traditional sweets were made so it was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about this family company and also the processes used to make the confectionery that we know and love today. Take a look:
A Family Business
It all began in 1907, in a small shop in Red Lion Street, Boston, where the menthol sweets were made using hand presses and individually wrapped by hand. Over the years there were changes of owners and a move to Wormgate. As the business expanded it always stuck to it’s Boston roots and In 2000, the Jakemans Factory was moved to Sutterton Enterprise park where it still resides today.
In 2006 there were 21 members of staff at the Sutterton based factory hand producing 16 tonnes of sweets every week. In 2007 family business,LanesHealth, those original founder, Gilbert Lane had an interest in both health and confectionery, acquired Jakemans. In 2010 they invested into the business to automate the sweet-making process. I was very interested to hear how rather than replacing the staff, this state of the art machinery actually improved work conditions for the current factory workers and also allowed Jakemans to create more jobs in Boston. Thanks to millions of pounds of investment in “world-leading, technologically advanced equipment” the workforce has expanded to over 55 and the business can now produce 17 tonnes of sweets a day.
Visiting The Factory
As we drove across the flat lands of Lincolnshire to Sutterton Enterprise Park, we knew we were getting close to Jakemans thanks to the wonderful menthol smell that hit us-I’ve never known a factory to smell so good!
We were greeted to a warm welcome from all the staff. We met with plant manager Tony Bradshaw, the team from Speed Communications and Liz Hughes-Gapper, Jakemans Brand Manager. We learnt lots about the history of Jakemans as a business and took part in a blind taste test of the different Jakemans flavours- my favourite is still cherry!
It was then time to get all kitted out and to see where all the magic happens and just how the natural ingredients of sugar, glucose, water, menthol crystals and flavourings are mixed into the soothing sweets that we come to rely on to treat our cold symptoms.
Factory girls- here I am with Sarah, Boo, Roo and Tigger Too, and Sabina, Mummy Matters, all looking the part and raring to go. My family had joked that I would be like an Oompa Loompa, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as I explored the factory and I can see that I did indeed look like one with the green hair net (and red rather than orange face as we explored the warmer areas).
Making Jakemans Menthol Sweets
It was time to see the factory in action. To make a batch of Jakemans Menthol Sweets 68 kilos of sugar and glucose are automatically weighed out.
Water is added and mixed. At first it looks white and creamy like making syrup.
The mixture drops into a holding tank ready for the steam to be extracted.
We also got to see the flavours, menthol crystals and colours being added but can’t share that with you as it’s top secret (no Arthur Slugworth, I will not reveal Jakemans secrets to you).
We made our way up steps to a platform where we had an incredible view of the maze of pipes that the mixture travels through. Our eyes began to water as the menthol smell was at it’s strongest up here and my nose and head had never felt clearer.
Our tour guide, Ian, informed us that they make a different flavour during each 16 hour day depending on demand. During our visit they were making the Original Throat & Chest variety. The black mixture looked like tar. We found out that in America their “Anise” flavour is caramel coloured (if any Americans are reading I’d love to see what your unwrapped Jakemans sweets look like).
The mixture was poured into the funnel (shown above) ready to be deposited into moulds.
I loved the sticky tar substance and it all smelt so lovely too.
The moulds travel through the wall to complete three cooling cycles and are conveyed to a cooler part of the factory (this was so refreshing after being in the hot process part).
Look at all those shiny new sweets!
The cooled sweets are ready to be wrapped!
Packaging the Bagged sweets
As part of our factory visit we also found out about waste management at Jakemans. Their aim is to get their waste down to 0%. I was pleased to hear that all of their packaging is recyclable and made from degradable plastic.
The sweets are individually wrapped in the wrapping machine ready for bagging.
Bagging the Sweets
As Jakemans is made a batch at a time the information is programmed into the packaging machines and the packaging is printed appropriately. You can find the Batch Number, Line Number, Time and a Best Before End printed on the back of every Jakemans bag (take a look while enjoying your next pack).
The wrapped sweets travel through a wall and up a conveyor to the bagging room above.
The sweets are divided into two rows as they travel towards the red buckets. The buckets weigh out 15 sweets per 100g (I will be counting the number of sweets in every pack from now on).
In a very clever system the two machines talk to each other and work together. As the red buckets measure the sweets the machine below makes the bags ready to package them.
The bags are filled, heat sealed then sent along the conveyor belt to be boxed by hand (which the experienced factory workers have down to a fine, fast art).
Ten bags per box are placed face down within the boxes ready to be transported to the shops ready to be displayed on the shelves and for us customers to come along and choose our pack.
Jakemans Traditional Jars
I was very excited to spot Jakemans Traditional Jars. I love it when I find a find an old fashioned sweet shop that sells menthol sweets in jars and always buy “a quarter” of Originals if I do.
When filling their 2.75 kg jars they weigh and fill them manually using scales. I have since discovered that jars of Jakemans can be purchased online and in different flavours. I feel an order for a jar of Original and Cherry may be purchased in the near future!
Jakemans Stick Packs
Next it was time to see how the convenient stick packs are made. These are currently available in Original and Honey & Lemon Menthol flavour but Jakemans hinted that more flavours may be coming soon (fingers crossed for Cherry).
The sweets are sorted and quality checked before packing. Broken sweets will be removed.
The sweets are individually wrapped in wax paper.
Then the individually wrapped sweets are packed and sealed into 41g stick packs.
These packs move along the conveyor ready to be hand packed into boxes. The stick pack machine can wrap 1500 sweets in a minute and 150 sweet packs (with ten sweets in each) in the same time. That’s pretty impressive.
The conveyor was slowed down to allow us some time to pack a couple of boxes. I was all fingers and thumbs and I can’t blame the gloves!
Here are some of the boxes the real factory staff prepared earlier (and at a lot faster speed than I managed).
A Working Lunch
We were treated to a huge buffet for lunch and I was also served vegan plates of food (I forgot to take a photo of my own lunch).
Over lunch we spoke to the management team. As mentioned previously I was very impressed with their commitment to reducing waste in the factory.
Just from spending time in the factory it was also clear how well trained and knowledgeable the staff were.
“We have a motto: the more you learn, the more you earn, and we really invest heavily in the staff with training. We want them always to be ready for that next stage.”
Jakemans are also willing to listen to their staff and over the years engineers have made improvements to the machinery based on ideas from the factory floor staff who see how the well designed equipment works in action.
It was great to see that despite the expansion there is still a friendly, family feel within the workforce.
The Warehouse and Distribution
After lunch we walked across to the warehouse to find out more about distribution.
This picture only shows a small amount of stock one one side of this warehouse and there were two more warehouses on site. Jakemans currently export to Eire, the Middle East, Asia, the USA and South America.
The Future for Jakemans
In 2015, Jakemans purchased over six acres of land adjacent to the current Sutterton site which will allow the factory to expand even further while remaining in the area. It’s certainly an exciting time for Jakemans!
I will certainly never look at a pack of Jakemans Menthol Sweets in the same way now I know all the processes and people that are involved in making them- I will appreciate them even more!
Do you have a favourite Jakemans flavour? Look out for a video coming soon!
Thanks so much to Jakemans for inviting us to the factory for the day.