Food for thought as Gericke celebrates its 50th birthday

ASHTON engineering firm Gericke has celebrated a notable landmark – the company’s 50th anniversary.

The Swiss-owned company, which builds machinery for the food industry, is a rare success story in the manufacturing sector which has long been in decline.

Gericke, which employs 45 people at its Cavendish Street premises, is helping Britain, and particularly Lancashire, live up to its once proud tradition of being the cradle of the industrial revolution.

In a hugely competitive sector, Gericke are thriving as they have a £7.5million turnover which has more doubled in the last four years.

The old Powtek building

They are also helping the British economy and balance of payments as 40 per cent of their work is for export.

And they have an impressive array of customers, the likes of Cadburys, Mars, Nestle, McVities and Unilever.

There are two strands to the business – fabricating special machinery for the sieving of flower and other confectionary ingredients. This included Nibblers for the coarse crushing of bulk materials.

Grinder Nick Mazuruk

They also provide process equipment for complete factories which can be contracts of up to £3m in size.

Gericke, whose headquarters are in Zurich, founded a subsidiary in Manchester called Powtek in 1971.

It was set up by Hermann Gericke, father of current CEO Marcus Gericke, who took a 50 per cent stake along with Malcolm Dean and Fred Smith who each had 25 per cent.

Gericke staff

After Powtek outgrew its premises on Great Ancoats Street, the company acquired its current premises in 1985.

The company has gone from to strength and its 50 years has overcome economic downturns, Brexit and most recently Covid-19 and the group as a whole has a £60m turnover. It also has another British base in Chippenham, Wiltshire.

Dan Baxter, head of sales, said: “I have worked in sales for 27 years and previously for minerals and pharmaceutical companies. They were affected by economic trends, but food is a constant.
“We are lucky to supply the food industry which has continued as normal.

“We haven’t even had to furlough staff and have kept going at full capacity.

“It has been particularly busy with the service and spare parts business which has done very well.
“We also provide machinery for the pets food industry which is thriving as there has been an uptake is people keeping pets during lockdown.”

Dan explained there have been incredible technological advances in the last half century.

He continued: “The increased level of automation has been the biggest change in the last 50 years.

“We have changed hugely from levers and switches to systems being run remotely and by wireless.

“While a lot of the technology has not changed, today there is a lot more documentation, especially with regards to safety and hygiene.

“We also have an ability to communicate with customers around the world by Zoom and Teams. We have a far greater access to the world rather than previously having to send someone on a plane to Brazil.”

Fabricator Neil Duxbury

Dan added they are at the sharp edge of technology, and he sees their sector developing further.

He explained: “The next evolution is that we see ourselves offering clients full automation solutions.

“Our goal is to increase the quality of our workforce by bringing in graduate engineers.”

General manager Joe Blackwell addressed the whole workforce on Friday, June 25, the exact day of the anniversary.

He described it as a “great achievement” for the company to reach the landmark anniversary.

Joe said: “We have really good people in the company, and they are the biggest single factor in our success.

“If we continue to build on that tradition and keep pulling together, we can have a tremendously successful business.

“It is right to celebrate being part of Gericke and right to celebrate the past, but we need to build to move forward.

“Switzerland also leaves us alone to do things which is good.”

Joe added Brexit and Covid-19 had presented challenges which they had overcome.

He also took employees back to 1971 when on the day of the anniversary Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road was number one in the pop charts.

That was also the year of decimalisation, Apollo 14 and 15 landed on the moon, Arsenal won the league and cup double and the first one-day cricket international was held.

Julie Sutton, from Glossop, is the longest-serving employee having been with the company 40 years since joining them aged 20 when they were known at Powtek.

After beginning as a receptionist, Julie switched to clerical and administrative duties. She had intended to retire recently when reaching 60 years of age, but she has been persuaded to stay on three days a week.

Two other long-serving employees are Peter Brotherton, who works on the shop floor, and Bob Morgan in sale with each being at the company more than 30 years.

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