Hufton, Neil (3 of 5). Food: From Source to Salespoint

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  • Subjects

    Manufacturers; Product developers

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Northampton

  • Interviewees

    Hufton, Neil, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Michael, Cos (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: NH describes Bendee Road house location and furniture. 1970s colour scheme. [04:12] SH’s taught until daughter, Rachael [Rach] born in 1974. Emma [Em] born 1976, son Tim, [Tim] in 1980. [05:18] Describes cars. Describes 2 years managing shift in oil production department; explains Unilever Company Management Development Scheme [UCMDS]. Describes mixing oils to create base for margarines. Lists oils and sources. Packet margarines, Stork and Echo main brands. Describes blending; economic benefits of multiple sources. [08:45] Describes new interesterification plant. Describes interesterification process. [10:20] Describes changes to mechanised refinery processes; NH’s main duties involved managing people. [11:16] Describes rotating shift patterns; many long serving employees. Describes managing shift production targets. [13:39] Describes power of 1970s shop stewards; constant negotiations. Describes job evaluation points, determining pay and duties. Main union was Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers [USDAW]. Describes friction between management and workers; mentions workers pride in Stork margarine works. Anecdote about negotiating bean oil processing plant. [18:46] Mentions two identical factories, duplicating production in case of disputes; one strike in 5 years. [21:30] NH describes unions as obstructive; mentions changing views over time. Mentions 1970s culture of disputes; transformed by Mrs Thatcher [MrsT]. [24:05] NH describes refinery area; describes duties throughout shift. Importance of log book; describes liaising with personnel, problem solving, etc. [27:26] Story about refinery fire; potential disaster. Describes engineer quenching fire. [29:21] NH outlines shift target; batches of oil delivered to margarine factory. Describes tasting oil for quality. [30:36] Outlines monitoring refining costs; efficiency measured against European factories. Batches measured 25 tons. [32:37] NH reported to Refinery Manager, Terry O’Neil, [TO] then DR. Refinery Manager was SM; NH lists other factory SM’s. Outlines meeting SM on day shifts; NH and margarine factory shift manager in charge on overnight shifts; describes power. Describes difference in shifts; importance of relationship with supervisors. [36:29] Anecdote about shift manager and operator. [39:22] Describes sharing supervisors canteen on night shift; playing cards. Outlines daily meeting in supervisor’s office; importance of supervisor’s logs. Describes distance between oil refinery and margarine factory. Describes galleried oil refinery interior; all tiled. Describes 16 deodorisers, extractors, control panel, etc. Describes neutralising vessels for spraying chemicals onto oil; also operated from control panel. Describes chemical store. Describes fuller’s earth filter presses; dirty environment. [45:37] Oil pumped from tanker terminal on Mersey; also delivered by lorry. Describes neutralising process; controlling fatty acid content. Describes calculating different treatments; learning on job. Mentions Unilever experts; availability of reference books. Most problems visible; describes palm oil turning turtle. [51:55] Describes move from batches to continuous flow of oil through processes; sophisticated processes involved. Mentions Alpha-Lavel [AL] refining equipment. [53:30] Describes smells of refinery; fish oil unpleasant. Describes protective clothing. [55:12] Describes mess of palm oil spillage; overtime for cleaning. Describes hygiene standards. Importance of fire precautions; direct link with Cheshire Fire Service. Outlines on site fire service; qualified first aiders. [59:30] Story about accident in catalyst plant; describes investigation. Emphasis on health and safety. [1:01:10] Oil pumped through processes; never seen in automated process. Mentions seeing oil at stages of batch processing. Describes debate over blending and deodorising process. [1:03:51] Describes learning to taste oil. [1:06:35] Outlines 15 hour refining process for batches, 30 minutes for continuous processing. 30 oil blends, mainly for Stork; mentions BlueBand, Spry, etc. Outlines processing oil for industrial trades. Mentions Craigmillar [CM], VDB’s industrial side; produced 150 products, requiring speciality batches. [1:10:04] Describes creating oil blends ready for flavouring in margarine factory. NH describes signing off after deodorising process complete. [1:13:14] Describes annual appraisal; outlines performance targets. NH describes industrial uniform; different hat to margarine factory. [1:15:20] NH describes importance of shift management experience; outlines unique management experience. Individual behaviour different to collective behaviour. NH outlines lacking experience; reliant on team. Outlines various pranks; mentions tarring and feathering ritual. No bullying recalled; shifts were social units. [1:20:36] No women worked in refinery; no reasons known. Outlines women packers in margarine factory. Describes ethnic mix; predominantly white Liverpudlians. Mentions internal job advertisements; few outsiders. [1:23:54] NH describes move to Development Dept; working on Cool Country [CC] chilled desserts. Describes products; mentions attending pastry making course. [1:25:28] Story about NH building yogurt plant in 1974; explains demand for healthy products. Mentions Unilever being too early; yogurts failed. NH worked with colleague, Andrew Neale [AN]. Describes TP mothballing plant an hour before opening; explains economic reasons for abandoning plant. [1:31:18] Describes VDB, CM and CC products. Outlines VDB and Jurgens merge in 1923, becoming Union Margarine. Explains merger with Lever Brothers and Union Margarine forming Unilever. VDB based in London in 1970; mentions move to ‘Marg Mahal’ in Burgess Hill. Describes VDB position within Unilever; VDBUK CEO sat on Unilever Management Group and Foods One [F1] Executive boards. [1:36:50] NH describes becoming specialist within F1; compares technical with other career paths. [1:39:45] Outlines hierarchy at CC, up to TP; NH also liaised with production CC team at VDB Head Office. Describes responsibilities of Technical Head, Cunningham; sourcing CC products. Outlines Bromborough yogurt factory Senior Project Manager, Ernie Waller [EW] and team; NH describes feelings of achievement. Anecdote about showing yogurt plant to SH. Describes telling Senior Operators about yogurt plant closure; all returned to original jobs. [1:47:05] NH describes having nothing to do; spent 3 months writing up project. Story about TP sending NH to work for Hans Luykke Roscott [HLR] in Technical Information Service [TIS], based in Unilever HO. Describes TIS; providing technical support to whole Unilever business. Describes HLR placing young, politically astute technical support staff with Unilever Senior Technical Managers. NH describes being appointed to support two the Technical Directors [TD] responsible for Unilever food business worldwide; responsible for providing all necessary information and briefings. Describes learning global workings of Unilever. [1:56:10] Describes TIS network; members across all Unilever departments. Incredible potential for learning business. Describes character and skills of HLR; pushing staff to achieve at highest levels. [2:00:45] Describes HLR’s vibrant management style. Outlines moving to Bromley, working at Unilever House. Describes pride in working for HLR; NH no longer trainee. Mentions good salary and progress. [2:04:10] Describes SH’s acceptance of moving; describes house hunting. Ease of commuting from Bromley; benefits of 12 months in London. [2:07:45] NH describes two bosses; each responsible for Overseas Countries [OC]. Defines product based Coordination sections covering big countries worldwide. OC’s were all smaller countries, managed as whole countries. OC’s were members of Overseas Committees; each Committee responsible for sections of the world. NH bosses each responsible for technical aspects of half the world; TD’s often abroad. [2:12:10] NH describes supplying and collating information for TD’s; outlines debriefing TD’s in London. Mentions TD’s status. [2:15:00] NH describes working hours. Describes Unilever House layout, divided by departments. Describes office, shared with other information officers. Outlines industrious atmosphere. [2:18:09] NH received good feedback; describes being sent to Rotterdam after 6 months. Mentions family disruption; EH only 6 months old. Describes admiration for HLR. NH describes creation of central Research and Development [R&D] programme for Edible Fats in Europe, based in Vlaardingen, Netherlands, and Colworth, England. NH sent to help Cess Okkeser [KO], Head of R&D; NH to report to HLR, but work for KO and his 8 cohorts. Outlines R&D management structure; Describes coordinating and minuting meetings; describes political importance of minutes. [2:24:45] Anecdote about speaking English at meetings. Describes KO. Story about SH’s parents in accident. Describes support from KO and HLR. [2:30:12] Describes return to UK, as Factory Manager at VDB’s Needham Market [NM] factory. Describes death of SH’s mother. Story about response of Technical Director of VDBUK, Werner Opfer [VO] to NH’s family emergency. [2:32:45] Describes starting at NM; describes VO. Anecdote about TP’s treatment of VO. VO replaced by Don Parker [DP]. NH outlines 5 happy years running NM. NM bought by CM, from Farmamalga Division of Unigate, to produce baker’s sundries and imitation cream. NH became first Unilever Manager of site; outlines factory location and history. [2:38:37] Mentions recent closure of NM site. Describes Needham Market town; central location of factory. Describes C19th factory buildings; family atmosphere of workforce. NH accepted into NM community, as main local employer. Describes enjoying autonomy; making products unique to CM. [2:44:25] Describes relationship with Eric Wright [EWr], Head of CM; describes great NM management team. Describes awful state of NM site; technological mess. [2:46:20] Story about Jersey outbreak of Salmonella, blamed on NM product. Describes major investigation; factory closed by Unilever. Describes competitors taking entire customer base. Describes site being cleared by investigators; subsequent discovery of Salmonella source in Jersey. [2:51:55] Describes gaining investment in NM from VDB Chairman, Ian Grant [IG]. Describes effect of salmonella scare on NM site; brought people together. Mentions Norman Lowes [NL], Production Manager and Eric Painter [EPa], Chief Engineer. Describes reorganising factory control structure. Describes challenge of developing imitation dairy cream; R&D project produced Elm Lea brand. Mentions talented scientist, Don Darling [DD]. Describes technological challenges of producing UHT cream product. Describes demand for Elm Lea; long shelf life.

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