How We Make Northern Special Pop-Ups

Author: CC Moore
Categories: Featured Articles

The operating process behind the NS1 pop-up and wafters...

Our unique hookbait ‘base’ mix is made, usually in a 10kg batch when rolling Pop-Ups or a 12kg batch for Wafters, however, if we have a large order for our European distributor SPRO NV, then this may be much more.

The base mix is then mixed with the SECRET recipe NS1 liquid and a liquid preservative to create the paste mix, which is mixed to the correct consistency for rolling, with the addition of a small amount of water.

The paste is then transferred to an extruder which delivers the paste as a ‘sausage’ onto the intake belt of the rolling plant. The extrusion and belt speeds need to be set precisely for each run, allowing for sausage stretch and expansion from the nozzle, to ensure the sausage is the correct size once it reaches the rollers. As the sausage travels along the belt, sensors activate cutters and a push plate, cutting the sausage (at specific lengths for the roller width) and pushing the final sausage into the rollers.

NS1 Pop-Ups and Wafters run through a three roller system to form a precisely shaped, smoothly rounded hookbait. The speed of each roller is independently controlled as the way they move and compact the paste impacts the shape and finish quality of the hookbaits.

The hookbaits are ejected from the roller to collect directly onto perforated stainless steel trays and placed into the steamer rack ready for steaming at the end of the run.

After steaming for a set time at a specific temperature, the hookbaits are cooled and dried before being boosted, hand sorted, bagged and then sent to the potting line where they also have the NS1 Hookbait Booster sachet added.

How often do we produce NS1 hookbaits?

This largely depends on the time of year but also on the popularity for a given colour and size of each hookbait. If we take the most popular Hookbait in the range, yellow 14mm, these are rolled every two or three weeks from early spring through to the autumn. Is it seasonal or once every few weeks, for example? And how long does each production run for and what volume of bait does that produce (any idea of the individual number of pop-ups?!)

A 10kg base mix of NS1 Pop-Ups will provide around 440 pots of hookbaits, which would amount to more than 24,000 hookbaits per batch. Taking drying into consideration, we can usually complete a 10kg batch within a couple of days providing the production schedule allows this. At certain times of year a queue naturally forms in production due to the inevitable spikes in demand in the UK or across the world.

How do we ensure the best consistency...

It is not necessarily harder, but different machinery and procedures are required compared to the boilie rolling plant. Hookbait rolling to our high quality standards is a much more delicate process than standard boilie production. Pop-Up rolling is also a much slower and more labour-intensive process, especially with the rigorous focus on quality control. As a comparison, we roll up to four tons of boilies per day, whereas our hookbait production has a capacity of around 40 kg per day.

How do we ensure the powder levels and liquid volume are 100% exact on each production run...

We use precision weighing and volume measuring equipment to ensure recipes are as accurate and consistent as possible. With the detailed procedures, equipment and production methods we have in place we rarely encounter problems. However, you cannot always eliminate human error, so the odd mistake does occasionally happen. We have a very good, long-serving and experienced hookbait production team, so errors are thankfully very uncommon. Bad batches are not something we encounter often, but if we do then we revisit our procedures and the detailed batch rolling records to see if we can improve them and prevent any repeat. I can’t really remember any major disasters, though I do remember a large dye spillage - fortunately we had a new floor in the hookbait room being installed the following week!

Creating the perfect wafters...

The current version of NS1 Wafters was developed over a three year period. Customer feedback showed there was certainly demand after we discontinued the original NS1 Wafters in 2015/16.

For the development of the current Wafters we created a dedicated wafter mix - I can’t remember exactly how many R&D runs we got through just to get the correct buoyancy, before all the other factors that then required consideration were addressed, such as shape and colour. I know there were 103 R&D test batches rolled before we were 100% happy with the new NS1 Wafters. This was then followed by four R&D production-size runs to ensure we had the desired consistency between runs.

Ensuring your NS1's remain in tip top condition...

How do you ensure they don’t turn and go off after a period of time? Do you have any little tips on how to keep them in the best condition for as long as possible? All our current hookbaits are ‘shelf-life’, which is achieved by adding a specific amount of liquid preservative to the paste mix. This amount has been tried and tested by us over many years and we are confident that we have established the optimum level to give our hookbaits a practical shelf-life without this creating any compromise on their attraction or quality.

Keeping your hookbaits in their best condition is simple; keep them cool, and out of direct sunlight. Sunlight on a pot can cause unwanted sweating of the baits which can in turn form mould. Avoid leaving an open pot in the rain too, as this can often cause spotting on the hookbaits. As your pots get older you may feel they are not as intense, smell-wise, as they once were. This can easily be remedied by giving them a light coating of the hookbait booster, which will spring them back to life!

Cleaning- attention to detail to ensure quality!

The original colours of white, yellow, pink & orange clean down relatively easily with warm water.

The reds, and a recent limited run of blacks, involve colourings that are a little more stubborn, requiring rather more elbow grease on the clean-down! The red Pop-Ups do in fact stain our rollers as the colour is so strong. However, we discovered that, incredibly and rather fortunately, running the red Wafters straight after the red Pop-Ups actually removes the staining. This is probably because the Wafter mix is a much ‘stiffer’ and more granular mix than that for the Pop-Ups. So, we try to always run red Pop-Ups and Wafters on the same day. Generally, a clean-down between runs takes our staff around one hour.

Our production lines for NS1 pop-ups

All Northern Special hookbaits are rolled on the same machinery, more or less. All the mixer, extruder and supply belt sections remain the same and, as the different sized rollers and their precise settings are too complicated and time-consuming to change individually, these also remain fixed. As a result, the individual rollers are never removed so, instead, we disconnect the power and swap over the entire roller unit of the machine. We have different roller units, one for each different sized hookbait we roll, which saves on production setup time but also allows us to make fine adjustments to the roller positions in relation to the push plate and belt if needed.

Boiling times- why we steam out baits

How much does this differ between the sizes of bait and their shape? And how do you ensure the water doesn’t go off the boil when they are induced and how do you remove and drain them? 

All our NS1s are steamed - there is no boiling process. Boiling can cause miss-shaping of the hookbaits and can also wash out some of that all-important attraction. Steaming not only ensures more attraction is locked into the hookbait but also ensures that, from the moment it has been rolled, the buoyancy remains consistent. 

With our industrial steaming oven, we steam all our baits for an exact length of time, no matter what their size or shape. The Pop-Ups are spread in single layers on steam trays and once steamed, they are sorted and then moved to a dedicated drying room.

Drying time, does this vary?

How and for how long do you let them dry for? Most hookbaits are dried in our dedicated hookbait drying room over 24 hours. The 13-14mm ‘+’ baits have a slightly different drying process that takes three days to ensure maximum buoyancy.

Superspeed packing- upscaling with demand

Until last year our hookbaits were still potted by hand. However, most of our hookbaits are now potted by machine. The machine is loaded with un-labelled empty pots, while the hookbaits are loaded into a hopper and are vibrated down to a drop point. The machine then counts each hookbait into the pot to reach a set amount before the pot is then moved by conveyor to a labelling system that spins the pot to apply the wrap-around label. The line could then utilise an automated lidding function but because we need to add booster sachets into the pot, we currently add sachets and lids manually. Finally, the pots are dated and placed into stock boxes for storage and used by our order packing team as required.

Biggest seller

Which are the most popular colours and shapes in the NS range? Roughly, how many items under the NR banner do you sell each year (pop-ups, liquids, etc.) - not value, just collectively, so you can keep it quite broad?  Yellow is the most popular colour of NS1 across the whole year. The other colours vary in their popularity depending on the time of year and media trends. Pink is currently the next most popular colour.

It is hard to put an annual sales figure to the NS1 banner in general, as there are so many diverse products in the range, but it is currently over 70,000 items per year.

Where does it all go?!

Where do they all go?! Is the bulk of the sales in the UK or do you ship them all across Europe and the ROW? Stock is issued to our order picking and packing team who gather to order requirements for shipping. Each product is barcode scanned as they are added to the order. We sell within the UK, the EU and worldwide, with our European sales distributed by SPRO NV in the Netherlands. Currently, about 60% of our sales are in the UK, with the other 40% exported.

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