Factory expansions on live sites: the top considerations and pitfalls to avoid

With people in the UK buying more than three million sandwiches from retail or catering outlets each year, spending more than £8m, this sector of the food and drink industry is thriving. 

As with other food businesses, rapid expansion to meet consumer demand brings several logistical challenges in planning future growth in their manufacturing, processing and distribution systems. 

With land at a premium and planning issues affecting decisions on creating new premises, many companies choose to expand their current facilities, often while keeping their operations running simultaneously. 

Clegg Food Projects has built its expertise in delivering such projects on ‘live’ sites, creating world-class buildings that ensure a company’s growth in a safe and timely manner. 

Business development manager Oliver Jenkins explains how the process has worked for a range of food and drink facilities. 

What are the main considerations when expanding factories on live sites?

Food and drink manufacturing companies continually launch new products and lines that require high-care manufacturing environments while maintaining people and product safety. 

Our clients often ask us to complete the work while production still operates. This requires a detailed plan and schedule of works to ensure the production workflow is maintained and construction works delivered. Segregation of the workforce, the product and ensuring the safety of both is key. 

It is essential to fully cordon off and hygienically screen the working area to prevent dust and foreign bodies from entering the factory’s processes. Food and drink factories must be clean and safe, well-ventilated and fire-rated, and have ultra-hygienic building fabric finishes and processes to comply with food hygiene regulations.  

They also need a carefully thought-out flow of processes to ensure the Most efficient layouts. Other requirements include temperature-controlled environments, smart power and utilities, industrial ventilation systems and specialist drainage and cleaning systems.  

What is the step-by-step process of planning the work? 

The first aim is to build a construction phase plan and understand when and where the new equipment, such as a canning line or a baking line, will be delivered and at which stage. This might include ensuring things like the drainage points and the power connections are in the right place ready for the equipment installation. 

At the outset of all projects, it is important to implement strict safety protocols to protect both the existing workforce and construction teams, for example if we’re using cranes and heavy machinery on site. 

A busy factory environment can have multiple teams of people working in different areas, operating commercial – and potentially dangerous – machinery and tools as well as vehicles. We need to avoid overwhelming the site and disrupting their operations while keeping people and products safe. 

What techniques do you use to ensure the live site continues to operate?

We operate in contained construction areas, like a ‘box within a box’, separate to the main building. Once everything is prepared and the equipment is ready to be installed, we will break into it to connect everything together. 

We work around shift patterns and coordinate with lorry movements and deliveries and consider key dates for the facility, such as the run-up to Christmas, when production goes into overdrive. 

Working safely and correctly is crucial in this ‘business as usual’ approach. As the principal contractor, we take charge of the construction site, so a client wanting to come into the area needs to ‘sign in’, adhere to the protocol and wear the correct protective equipment. 

What examples of live sites have you worked on?

We are working with a major and long-standing client on a £17m sandwich factory extension in an 18-month project. They have the land already and it’s a relatively new build but the original factory was built with expansion in mind – a common approach in the food and drink sector. 

We’re also in charge of our fifth expansion project in 20 years for plant-based food company Alpro, which is owned by Danone Group. This site has been expanding to meet the growing demand for dairy alternatives.   

One of our biggest expansion plans is for the bakery chain Greggs, in Newcastle. We built a cold store there four years ago, which freed up space that was reclaimed for a large production line and development centre. 

We’re also expanding a Greggs distribution centre in Amesbury, Wiltshire. This is a key part of Greggs’ expansion strategy, enabling it to open more stores across the south and south west of England. We previously provided a full construction service on the facility, delivering the buildings and the mechanical, electrical and refrigeration services installations. 

We are also currently live onsite with blue-chip breweries, soft drinks and advanced manufacturers for defence and aerospace, all on existing sites and around ongoing operations.  

How important is sustainability when expanding factory sites?

With increasing pressure on construction firms to reduce their environmental impact, we actively implement sustainable methods at operation and site level to reduce our projects’ impact. 

We incorporate sustainable construction techniques and technologies wherever practically possible, delivering efficient energy solutions for our clients as an important part of our building strategy. 

We constantly strive to learn and find innovative ways to improve not only our environment but also our social and operational governance. This includes achieving the Global Ecovadis procurement system, obtaining the Silver Medal status, appointing carbon champions to spearhead green initiatives, and attending events such as the Sustainable Food Factory Conference 2024, one of the UK’s foremost events on decarbonising food and beverage operations.   

Talk to our experts today   

With our ever-evolving food and drink manufacturing sector facing exciting changes ahead, speak to our expert team about your next expansion plan or new facility project. 

You’ll be in safe hands – Clegg Food Projects has more than 40 years’ experience and has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. 

Email us at foodprojects@clegggroup.co.uk or call us on 0115 841 3121.