Kettle Foods deepens its Norfolk roots with £2.7m potato processing investment
A well-known Norwich crisps brand has embedded its roots in Norfolk for decades to come by investing £2.7m in a new potato processing building - unlocking the factory's future growth potential.
Kettle Foods has been making crisps in Norwich for more than 30 years, with the majority of its potatoes grown within 30 miles of the factory.
The new intake and grading building at the firm's Bowthorpe headquarters is expected to handle 63,000 tonnes of Norfolk-grown potatoes in the next 12 months - but it has the capacity to process 120,000 tonnes per year, opening the door for future expansion.
It includes a trailer bay able to unload eight bulk lorries; a grader to remove stones, soil and under-sized potatoes; a barrel washer; a "halver" to chop large potatoes to the correct size; and an optical separator which can identify and remove unwanted foreign objects by using three cameras, taking as many as 40 images of every item passing through the conveyors, to assess their colour and density.
Finally, the last line of defence for food quality and safety is a state-of-the art x-ray to extract any dangers hidden from the cameras, ensuring that nothing but premium potatoes are transported via a water flume system to the cooking rooms.
Managing director Ashley Hicks said the two year project had been completed just an hour before the launch event. He said: "30 years ago our founders set up home in Norfolk to be as close as possible to our potato farmers and we still love using locally grown potatoes today. This new intake facility will enable us to expand so that Norwich remains the home of Kettle Foods for many more years to come.
"We are celebrating our 30th birthday this year so this is a really fitting milestone for us to be opening a building which will set us up for the next 30 years.
"We have got some state-of-the-art equipment we are using that is not used anywhere else in the UK potato industry, particularly the X-ray to make sure no foreign bodies get into our process. For us, that is the most important thing. We want to make sure that food safety and quality is critical."
Of the project cost, £1.7m is being funded by Kettle Foods with the support of parent company Campbell's, and £1m has been grant-funded through the Growth Programme of the Rural Development Programme for England, provided by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).
The new building upgrades Kettle Foods' entire potato intake process and moves it to a new building on land next to the existing factory - boosting intake capacity and freeing up internal manufacturing space for future expansion.
Dan Hewitt, Kettle's head of agriculture, said: "It is an absolute game-changer for Kettle Foods, and for Norfolk, and for our growers. The ability of this kit for cleaning and sorting potatoes, and foreign object detection, is absolutely the best in the business and this investment with our partners has given us a massive, massive advantage.
"The building has given us the capacity to go north of 120,000 tonnes a year. Until now the limitation to our growth was our intake, but that is no longer the case. We have freed up room for expansion within the factory."
The new building was formally opened by Melvyn Mickleburgh, who had worked at the old potato intake for 27 years and postponed his retirement to see the replacement facility up and running. He was joined by other long-serving workers and some of the farmers who supply potatoes to the factory.
Trimingham farmer James Harrison is chairman of the Kettle Growers' Group. He said: "This investment gives us massive confidence. It is great to be supplying a local factory with a good product but seeing the investment they have made in the back-end is key for us as growers. It gives us security going forward."