Priestley's Gourmet Delights opens new $53m AI-powered food facility

Tuesday, 28 May, 2024

Priestley's Gourmet Delights opens new $53m AI-powered food facility

Priestley’s Gourmet Delights (PGD) has officially opened its new $53 million, 7740 m2 AI-powered facility in Brisbane’s Acacia Ridge.

Founded by Marilyn Jones on the Sunshine Coast back in 1996, PGD originally produced a tonne of cakes a week for local cafes across Brisbane. Now the business produces around 100 tonnes of cakes and desserts each week, which are sold to foodservice distributors across Australia and New Zealand. It also has plans to launch a retail range of five individually packaged cakes and tarts.

Keeping it in the family, the current MD and CEO of PGD, Xanny Christophersen, is Jones’s niece and has been involved with the business since she was around 10 years old. She said: “Our new facility is something we’re incredibly proud of — the advanced manufacturing technology we’re using here will enable us to expand our production significantly and launch into the retail space.”

With a 55% increase on the footprint of the company’s previous premises, the new facility is a data-led SMART factory which can instantly harness real-time data to boost productivity, improve processes and drive growth. Mobile autonomous robots streamline the baking process — stacking product onto baking racks as well as safely moving the racks around the facility — doubling production capacity and ensuring the safety of employees by reducing the need for repetitive manual tasks.

“We’ve been using our new MES system which uses real-time data to coordinate and provide visibility across all the critical functions in our new facility. Through production control and monitoring, process automation and real-time analytics, the MES system can make better decisions to optimise our productivity,” Christophersen said.

“Due to this technology we’ve been able to streamline our production to craft our cakes at a higher volume and — crucially — in a way that is safer and smarter.

“We’ve also increased our oven capacity, which is powered by solar, as well as our depositing capacity, which means — through our automated line — we can now produce an additional 2500 muffins per hour (increased from 2900 to 5400 per hour). Our automated packing line is able to pack 25% more cakes per hour (an increase of 2800 to 3600 per hour).”

PGD’s employees remain an integral part of the company with staff involved in everything from hand decorating the products and selecting ingredients to tasting and quality control. Employees whose jobs are now automated are being upskilled towards higher-value roles which will enable them to develop their expertise and drive innovation of future products and processes. Currently employing 210 staff members, the business is set to increase staff numbers by a projected 56 roles by 2026.

“The technology we’re harnessing will allow us to boost productivity while also enabling us to grow our people — supporting them to upskill and creating a substantial number of new jobs for Queenslanders, as well as adding to the state’s economy,” Christophersen said.

PGD will launch a new range of five desserts into independent retail chains Drakes Supermarkets and Ritchies IGA, with the view to expand to additional outlets across Australia. The range will include individually packaged cakes and tarts.

“Our expansion into retail under the brand Gourmet Delights will be consumers’ first direct exposure to our brand and will assist in growing their awareness of what we offer. Additionally, it is a key part of our overall business futureproofing strategy,” Christophersen said.

As with most new launches, the business expansion into retail had some challenges along the way — one of these was with the packaging design, which needed to be visually appealing while also considering the environment. “It’s great that our plastic containers are made with Recycled PET in Australia and both the container and sleeve are readily recyclable.”

Sustainable is a big focus for the business, which received a $2.5m Made in Queensland grant to help build the new facility and scale up its operation.

“All of our ovens have changed from gas to solar electricity. We have built an extensive solar panel system which is powering our new electric ovens and reducing our carbon footprint,” Christophersen said.

“It’s fantastic to be at the helm of such an innovative company. As the niece of the founder, I’ve watched the business grow over the years and our new facility is testament not only to her drive but the hard work of all of our employees.”

Image caption: Original founder of Priestley’s Gourmet Delights Marilyn Jones (left) pictured with her niece and current MD and CEO Xanny Christophersen at the opening of the new facility in Brisbane’s Acacia Ridge.

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