Kettle Foods marks 30th year in Norwich with £3m factory investment
A Norwich food manufacturer has made a £3m commitment to its future in the city and its staff as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Kettle Foods has taken the first steps in a project to build a new in-take area for potatoes – which it can go through up to 300 tonnes of in a single day.
The £2.7m investment will see a new building constructed on spare land near the main factory with a bulk trailer bay with space for eight articulated potato lorries, new grading machinery to remove soil, stones and small or damaged potatoes, and a new water flume system to transport the tubers to the main factory.
The project has been mostly funded by the company, with £1m coming from a European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development grant.
Kettle Foods says it will increase potato in-take capacity by a third and will free up space for further development inside the main building.
Following a ground-breaking ceremony last week, building work is expected to start in the summer and be completed within 12 months.
Potato in-take manager Melvin Mickleburgh, a Kettle employee for 25 years, said the growth of the in-take area had not matched that of the rest of the business in recent years.
“We have six in-take bays at the moment and we struggle to keep pace, but with eight it is going to be brilliant,” he said.
“This is good news for me and my crew – at the moment we are working with some old equipment so something state of the art will be very welcome.
“I want to make sure my crew get the facility they need to do their job.”
Ashley Hicks, managing director at Kettle Foods, said it would be the biggest investment the site had seen since 2011.
“It is a big commitment to Kettle staying in Norfolk and secures the future of the site for as far ahead as we can see,” he said.
“Potato in-take is one of the bottle necks in the site for us. Getting potatoes in from growers was difficult. We have an in-take curfew of 7pm which is putting pressure on us so this will allow us to take more in and maintain that curfew.”
He added: “We have always had room at the factory to do a bit more but we did not have the room to get more out or in. This will enable us to take the next step in our growth plan.”
News of the investment comes as Kettle finalises changes to employee contracts – which had previously caused friction between management and staff.
Ashley Hicks admitted that a war with discount retailers Aldi and Lidl had forced the firm to make changes.
This increased competition, as well as demand from major grocery firms who now account for 20% of its orders, is driving a need for greater production – the Bowthorpe factory is set to start production on Saturdays for the first time with new shift patterns for factory staff coming into force in August.
Staff had been concerned about being able to secure holiday time, but Mr Hicks said a consultation had resulted in a shift-swap system being introduced.
He added that, for staff who face a pay cut, the changes will be phased in over six months and those in the lowest paid positions will be offered the chance to retrain for higher paid roles. He reiterated the company had not been “in a redundancy situation”.