James T Blakeman & Co Ltd is the home of the famous Supreme Sausage. Now one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of sausage and meat products, the Blakeman family business has been supplying the domestic, export, catering and fast food markets for over 64 years.
After the second world war, during which he had served in the RAF, James Blakeman spent a short time as manufacturing supervisor with a pork butcher in Leek, Staffordshire.
In 1953, having picked up what he needed to know about the business Jim decided to set up on his own. He started small, taking a mobile refreshment bar in partnership with his brother-in-law and, at the same time, worked as a freelance sausage-meat manufacturer.
After his marriage to Ann in 1955 the couple bought a farm at Caverswall near Stoke-on-Trent, turning cow sheds and stables at the back into a small manufacturing unit for sausage, cooked meats and poultry. It was a modest enterprise, supplying four retail outlets with 100 lbs of sausage per week on small, hand-operated machines.
Soon Jim and Ann (who would be a mainstay of the business until her retirement in 1995), moved up into larger quantity production with an ‘Alexander Werk’ filler and a ‘Seydlemann’ bowl chopper allowing weekly sausage production at the farm to top the three tonne mark.
The Blakeman’s son Philip, the current Managing Director would complete an apprenticeship that included learning every process in the small factory, and later gained an HGV1 licence to drive the company’s refrigerated delivery trucks. Eighty-hour weeks were the norm rather than the exception as he followed the same work ethic as his parents.
In 1977 Blakeman’s moved to larger modern factory premises at Northam Road, Hanley. Included in the £250,000 investment were new mincers, fillers, massagers and an 80 litre Alpina Bowl Cutter. Production steadily rose to seven tonnes of sausage per week.
The product range covered Supreme Quality Sausages and a Catering Sausage. There was even a deep-fry version for distribution to chip shops, canteens and motorway restaurants. In addition the company prepared a range of cooked meats.
The firm covered a 100 mile radius from Stoke, though during the summer season, products were soon being taken by customers as far away as Cornwall.
In 1988 Blakeman’s moved to showpiece premises in Trubshaw Cross, Longport.
At this £650,000 self-contained, purpose built factory Blakeman’s had a clinically hygienic open plan working area of 40,000 square feet.
The Blakemans’ daughter Susan, now Finance Director, completed the family team when she joined the firm in 1982 to work in administration and accounts, later adding training to her responsibilities.
The firm’s EEC appointment was complimented by its membership of the British Frozen Food Federation, the Institute of Meat and the in-house training in Advanced Food Hygiene. Quality and Hygiene are as much a part of the ingredients of a Blakeman’s Sausage as the prime products and the secret seasoning they contain.
The new £3.2 million facility opened in 2000 in Millennium Way, Newcastle-under-Lyme, shortly after Philip Blakeman and his sister, Financial Director Susan Cope, took over running the business from their father Jim, now Chairman. The new facility allowed Blakeman’s to enter the cooked market with the capability of producing deep fried, oven cooked and steamed products and accommodate ever-increasing orders from its customers. Managing Director, Philip Blakeman, explains: “We’ve been committed to supplying the catering and fast food industries with the highest quality product for over 60 years and we’ve demonstrated our commitment to the future of the industry by making this investment. Production capacity has doubled”. According to Jim Blakeman “Since Philip and Susan took over they’ve consolidated our position in the frozen & chilled markets and moved us successfully into new cooked markets by following the core principles we’ve always employed”.
A focus on quality made Blakeman’s a leading supplier to both UK and foreign markets with a worldwide distribution of 12,000 tonnes of its products a year, and an annual turnover of £12m.
In 2006 the millennium way site was expanded by 18,000 square foot, providing additional cold storage at a cost of £1.5 million. In 2008 the cold store was closed and converted into the current manufacturing site, adding a further £4.4 million investment. The conversion of the site saw the Longport factory move to Millennium Way, the instillation of state of the art Spiral freezers, the creation of a development kitchen and a large office expansion. The new industry-leading design of the factory is one of the most advanced in Europe, with the lowest carbon footprint for a development of its type. According to Phillip "The building uses energy efficient lighting throughout with lighting sensors and we have replaced our gas fridges with eco-friendly ones. We also recycle all of our waste and our packaging is locally sourced, which reduces vehicle miles." The installation of our development kitchen has allowed us to formulate and create bespoke recipes in conjunction with our clients to match their specifications exactly.
A key principle has been investing in the most efficient manufacturing processes, whether plant, machinery, recruitment, training or quality assurance systems. Phillip Blakeman says: “The majority of our 200 employees are longstanding and we send our management teams off on external courses. We also employ consultants who regularly advise and work with us on ever-changing legislation. Our in-house training is always up to date.”
Blakeman’s has had a fully integrated IT system that links every departmental function since ‘efsis’ issued guidelines on ‘instant time live data’ standards in 2005. The system known as Tropos, supplied by SSI provides real-time, full traceability of ingredients throughout the production process, all carried out through touch screen technology. “We’ve always invested in the latest plant and equipment and our IT systems are of an equivalent standard to improve efficiency and reduce costs. This has been fundamental in us attracting a number of new clients, all of whom continue to benefit from the investment we have continually made in state-of-the art manufacturing, storage and distribution systems, which has resulted in an operation that is widely regarded as a model to the rest of Europe.”
In 2015, saw an investment of £900,000 with the installation of a double belted helix spiral freezer. Allowing for better product integrity and allergen control combined with greater energy savings and boasts a product infeed temperature of +77° with an output of -30° within 30 minutes. Starfrost Freezing & Chilling Systems of Lowestoft were contracted to install a full internal stainless plant with a highly efficient hot gas defrost and CIP (Clean in Place) system, allowing for rapid cleaning and improved hygiene, with easy to clean slideable conveyor belts a further feature of the installation.
2017 saw Blakemans open the new £1.35 million production facility at the High Carr factory. The conversion of one cold store unit has allowed us to manufacture, cook, chill and pack sausages in just 50 minutes, with a fully automated system. This has released over 40 tonnes per week of production time to our manufacturing facility and increased cooked volume by up to 35% (42,000 kg) with less handling of its products whilst still maintaining full traceability.
Our ongoing investment in the business translates into lower operating costs with improved productivity and enhances Blakeman's standing in the industry whilst consolidating our commitment to our customers.