Wigan Heinz revisit for TV lockdown special
Wigan’s gigantic Heinz plant is to star in the hit TV series Inside the Factory for a second time as it ups its game to feed the nation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A self-isolating Gregg Wallace will be seen in contact with the friends he made at the Kitt Green operation when the documentary series first visited four years ago.
The coronavirus crisis caused a massive spike in the sales of tinned goods, and Heinz ramped up production to deliver almost 50 million cans in just one month: nearly double the normal output.
Throughout the episode, Gregg looks back over the whole baked bean production process.
First, he helps unload 27 tonnes of dried haricot beans from North America and follows them on a one-and-a-half-mile journey through the largest food processing factory in the world. He discovers how a laser scrutinises every single bean, how the spice recipe for the sauce is a classified secret and, most surprisingly, how the beans are cooked inside the can in a room of giant pressure cookers – so not baked at all!
Meanwhile, Cherry Healey follows the journey of a discarded can through a recycling centre and on to the largest steelworks in the UK. She also explores how tinning keeps our food fresh, taking a tin of tomatoes 14 months past its best-before date and revealing it still has the same vitamin C levels as fresh tomatoes. And historian Ruth Goodman reveals how Henry Heinz first marketed baked beans in the UK in the early 1900s.
Stuck at home, Gregg catches up with some of the workers via video calls to find out how they are coping in these extraordinary circumstances.
A two-person crew observing strict social distancing are with Gregg at home, while the factory workers film their own footage onsite using sterilised equipment.
Gregg speaks to operations manager John Brockley, who he first met when he filmed the tinned soup episode. John reassures Gregg that the beans are still getting through from North America – in fact, they have increased the import. Usually they have two ships at sea containing 800 tonnes each, taking 16 days to travel coast to coast – now they have upped it to three ships coming across the Atlantic.
Since Gregg can’t go to the factory himself, John agrees to be his roving reporter, to reveal how the staff are keeping safe across the site, including passing through a thermal camera, which automatically takes the temperature of workers as they enter the factory.
John shows the ways they have managed to increase production. A new, faster canning machine had been installed since Gregg’s last visit, producing 12,000 cans a minute compared to the previous 8,000. The factory has also temporarily simplified the line, focusing on making more of the in-demand items. They have also increased shifts and only stop the line for one 24-hour period at the weekend, instead of 48 hours, to do essential maintenance.
In the spice mixing area, Gregg speaks to the new holder of the secret spice recipe, David Whitely.
Gregg still isn’t able to glean any secrets, but David reassures him there are no problems with the supply of ingredients for the sauce, so it is beans business as usual.
Gregg also speaks to manager Anthony Foster at their nearby national distribution centre, a giant warehouse which holds almost all of Heinz’s products, before cranes load them on to trucks to be sent out to supermarkets.
On his visit in 2016, Gregg was amazed not only at the incredible, automated ‘dancing cranes’ but also at how warm it was inside the warehouse, caused by the heat coming from the products fresh from the cooking in the factory.
Anthony reveals the pressures of recent demand – during the peak of panic buying, they distributed an incredible 2.7 million cases in a week, compared to a normal distribution of 1.9 million per week. They are running a 24-7 operation and are sending out whole pallets of tins to larger customers rather than breaking them down to smaller orders, which means they can move product out of the warehouse more quickly.
Finally, having looked back over the factory’s entire production process and learnt about its many efforts to boost output and keep its staff safe, it is time for Gregg to say goodbye to roving reporter John and to sign off with a big thanks to the factory workers on behalf of us all.
n Inside the Factory – Baked Bean Update – Keeping Britain Going will be broadcast at 8pm on Monday on BBC2.