New TV programme lifts lid on Wigan's giant Heinz factory

The Heinz factory in Kitt Green
The Heinz factory in Kitt Green

A new documentary promises to reveal the “secrets” of what goes on behind the doors of Wigan’s renowned food factory.

For 60 years, the Heinz factory in Kitt Green has been responsible for producing around 200 of the nation’s most popular food products including soup, pasta and, of course, 450 millions of cans of baked beans every year.

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And tonight (Thursday), a three-part Channel 5 documentary series, Secrets of the Factories, will launch with a look inside the huge Heinz site.

The show will discover the logistics of making food on an industrial scale and interviews a handful of the 850-strong workforce, from food tasters and apprentice engineers to the factory’s own firemen, and also reveals the story behind the famous Heinz 57 number.

Heinz remained tight-lipped when asked about what the show would feature, but the company’s director of corporate affairs, Nigel Dickie, said viewers could at least expect to see the company’s industrial prowess.

He said: “This is our 150th year of celebrating the Heinz brand, and the 60th year of our Kitt Green factory, which has benefitted from significant investment in new manufacturing machinery in the last two years.

“It’s a great way to show how very proud we are of our manufacturing, and making some of the best loved products in the country.”

The Kitt Green factory first opened in 1959 (having already been operating since before the war in Standish).

Today, it is Europe’s largest food factory, putting out 383,000 tonnes of products every year - roughly one billion cans of food.

The factory has seen constant investment and development to keep up with the changing demands of the food supply chain.

This was accelerated by Heinz’s global merger with Kraft in 2015, with aroune £113.6m being invested. This was followed by a further £20m funding boost last year, aimed at increasing the factory’s output even further.

The cash boost was seen as a major endorsement by bosses for staying and even expanding in the borough.

The size of the workforce has reduced over the years from the many thousands who once worked there to the current 850, but Heinz remains one of Wigan’s biggest employers.

It is such an integral part of the country’s food industry that Her Majesty the Queen visited for its 50th anniversary in 2009. Accompanied by Prince Philip, Her Majesty had a tour of the canning site, opened a new packaging operation and started the production lines rolling.

The Queen Mother also visited just a few weeks after the site opened back in 1959.

Episode one of Secrets of the Factories will air tonight on Channel 5 at 8pm.