On Monday 12th March forty Business Studies students along with Mr Parks, Mrs Patterson and Mrs Ross left school and headed to Tayto Castle in Tandragee. We arrived at the castle and were greeted by Mr Tayto and then received a safety talk from one of the tour guides, Lenore. She also shared with us a brief history of the castle and how the business was founded. In the 20th century the castle had become abandoned by its previous owner leaving it derelict and up for public sale. Three business men, namely Walter Gracey Hutchinson, Fred McKinney and Thomas Hutchinson, bought the castle and two hundred acres of land between them for around £5000. Hutchinson had recently been made aware of a new concept, flavoured potato crisps, and decided this was what he wanted to pursue with his recent purchase. He bought his co-owners out and therefore owned the land and property outright.
On the first day of business Hutchinson employed six workers and made approximately nine hundred tins of potato crisps which he delivered to his customers using his bakery vans. These proved popular with his regular customers therefore providing the encouragement he needed to provide potato crisps on a larger scale to his local market. Today Tayto employs around three hundred and fifty workers in its Headquarters alone and has the ability to produce one million packets of crisps and snacks daily. Although ‘Cheese and Onion’ is undoubtedly their signature flavour Tayto has to keep up with the competition and has now produces over twenty flavours of potato crisps and has luxury and children’s ranges. It operates twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to keep up with the growing demand.
Now to briefly summarise the safety talk: we were made aware that the factory floor would be noisy, warm and inhabit several potent smells. In the warehouses it would be colder and there was a high possibility of squashed potatoes as oil on the floor of the frying room and water on the floor of the potato prep room which would all be slip hazards. Next, we were given aprons and hair nets for hygiene and had to thoroughly sanitize our hands. We were split up into three groups, each group had a member of staff and a tour guide, and we were then led out into the potato store houses. Our tour had begun!
We set off in our groups firstly to the potato store houses. It was cold and to be quite honest, it stank. We were taken to stand in a ‘bay’ which was one of many sections of the store house. One bay alone could hold 400 tonnes of potatoes. It was explained to us that from July to November the farmers that supplied Tayto, harvested the potatoes and brought them into the factory where they would be stored in a bay under layers of thick duvets and plastic. The purpose of this was to keep them in the dark to prevent sprouting and protect them from frost. The front of each bay was boarded up and a heavy curtain was draped over the front. Only 3 varieties of potato grown in Northern Ireland are suitable for crisp production due to their higher solids content which ensures that as they come out of the machines at speeds of up to 40mph they do not break. As the potatoes are needed they are taken in 1 tonne boxes to the prep room. This is where we visited next. The box of potatoes is tipped into a hopper and it shakes them up a moving conveyor belt into a rotating drum. The potatoes stay in the drum for upwards of 10 minutes which shakes off any loose soil. Once they move out of the drum they continue along another conveyor to the de-stoner which as the name suggests removes stones and fine dirt. On leaving the de-stoner the potatoes fall into a flotation tank so hollow potatoes, hay and grass float to the top and the potatoes themselves pass through a pipe filled with cold water which takes them upstairs to the frying room. The waste water from this process is filtered and cleaned and re-used in the factory which saves Tayto around £100,000 per year.
When the potatoes arrive in the frying room they are sent through four chambers which are lined with ‘metal sandpaper’ which removes the skin from the potatoes without wasting potato flesh. Once the potatoes leave the peeler chamber they pass along a conveyor to be sorted into good, bad, big and small. The bad potatoes and any that are deemed too small are transferred into silver barrels and eventually are sent for animal feed. A worker hand picks the bigger potatoes and puts them into blue barrels which are sent to another area of the factory which we will address later on. Now that the perfect potatoes have been chosen they are stored in a tank of cold water to stop discolouration. Once a full batch of potatoes is ready they are sliced at approximately 1.6mm thick and go through a cold wash to remove excess starch and a warmer rinse to loosen the flesh and partially cook them. The starch by-product gets spun into ‘spider webs’ and gets sent to glue manufacturers.
The prepared potatoes enter a vat of rapeseed oil and are cooked for a number of minutes. They pass out of the fryer on a conveyor where the flavoured powder falls through a cone onto the freshly cooked crisps. As they are damp from the oil this is the best base for the flavouring to stick. They then go into a spinning barrel which tosses them about allowing the flavour to coat them evenly and excess flavouring powder to fall off. We were also told that all of the frying oil used to cook crisps in Tayto is changed every other day. The oil doesn’t get thrown out however, it is cleaned and used to power the factory through a hydraulic power system.
At the end of the frying room we looked through a viewing gallery into the packing facility. The crisps that are pre-weighed pass through a metal detector. Then rolling cylinders form the bags which the crisps fall in to. The top and tail of the bags are then heat sealed. All bags of crisps are hand packed into boxes by workers as it is more efficient and prevents mistakes. The next part of the tour was simply a chain of conveyors and workers packing multipacks into boxes.
Situated throughout the factory there are 3 labs which take samples of the product and the cooking oil to carry out several quality tests.
Following on from there we went to the part of the factory dedicated to Taytos hand crafted range. This is where the blue barrels containing the bigger potatoes from earlier in the process end up. They are sliced thicker and they are not washed to remove the starch so they remain crispier. In this part of the factory they have specialized frying vats which give the potatoes the hand cooked finish. A conveyor then took the finished crisps to a smaller flavour barrel to be coated in their particular flavour and then they were also packaged.
There is also a specialised oven for the baked products and then packed in the same way. These products are actually corn rather than potato based. As they leave the oven they are given a light spray of oil to enable the flavour to adhere.
Some of the crisps that Tayto produce e.g. Bikers, Spirals and Onion Rings are imported from France, Spain and Denmark as tiny potato pellets which are fried in oil for 16 seconds before flavouring is added.
The last stage in the production of crisps is in the loading bays where six robotic arms pack boxes onto pallets and a large rectangular shaped machine wraps the filled pallets in cling film before forklifts load them on the Lorries leaving factory for the local home markets and further afield such as the UK and as far as Australia.
In conclusion this trip proved to be very beneficial both as an educational trip but also to see the theory we have learned put into practice. In Business Studies class we had been learning about Business Operations which looks at manufacturing methods and processes as well as production sectors, inventory control and quality assurance which were all well represented and displayed in Tayto. To top it all off we each received some free samples throughout the tour for example warm crisps just off the conveyor and several other types of flavoured crisps.