March 4 2015 Latest news:
By MICHAEL POLLITT, Agricultural editor
Friday, November 2, 2012
A specialist egg grading and packing station in central Norfolk has just won one of the world’s top food safety standard awards at its £3.5m facility.
It comes as Anglia Free Range Eggs has tripled staff numbers in less than a year as the state-of-the-art grading system has come on stream as planned.
There are now 18 full-time staff at the former vegetable packing plant in Maurice Gaymer Way, Attleborough, which is supplying eggs across the region and further afield – when just a year ago, there were five employed, mainly part-timers.
Clair Bullen, who is head of sales and marketing, said that a planning application has been submitted to extend the packing and grading plant as the business has grown rapidly. “We’re now running out of room, so we’d like to extend our factory to add more space for packaging and storage,” she added.
And the firm, which is headed by directors, Harry Irwin, Peter Davison and Randolph Ford, has just received a provisional top rating in the official British Retail Consortium audit.
“We’re absolutely thrilled and this will potentially open more doors. It is something that retailers recognise and hold up that standard as a key. We’ve not even done a full year and we’re already supplying the largest retailer in the UK and have achieved grade A on BRC audit. I’m really chuffed,” added Ms Bullen.
In August last year, they received “Lion” egg approval.
“We are growing steadily and we’re gaining more customers. We’ve tripled in size in terms of staff and taken on staff. It is literally just keeping pace with demand,” she said.
In May, the group of independent free-range egg producers from East Anglia started supplying supermarket giant Tesco and stores across eastern England including Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and south Lincolnshire. It was now sending eggs to four of its depots.
Since the specialist sorting, grading and packing machinery started in earnest in January, volumes increased to about 850,000 eggs a week and the plan was to double throughput to about 1.7m eggs by the end of the year. A key investment was the Moba grader, which has a rated capacity of 170 cases or 61,200 eggs an hour.
Ms Bullen said that five more producers had come on board and now the directors were looking ahead to increase capacity. Eggs were now being collected seven days a week from producers across the region. “The focus is very much on East Anglia and so we do have producers in Essex and Cambridgeshire but Norfolk and Suffolk is our homeland really.”
“Moving into the new year we will be grading over the weekend and all part-time staff were now working full time. We’re put in a cleaning shift at the end of the day. We’re maximising our hours and increasing the time that we’re actually grading,” she added.
The business, which was founded by five farming families in 2010, has taken on more producers as contracts have allowed. “We are actively recruiting because at the moment I’m selling all that that we can produce. I can’t take any more order on board at the moment.”
As well as supplying a number of local and regional retailers, Anglia Free Range Eggs were also going to the Musgrave Group, which supplies Budgen and Londis stores, she added.
The company, which secured grant aid from the former regional development agency, Eeda, for the packing equipment, took over a high-specification building. “There’s no else in East Anglia who can do this kind of retail volume, so we’ve developed a niche. We’re centrally located for all our producers reducing food miles and ensuring maximum freshness,” said Mr Irwin.
There has been further investment in plastic trays, which has reduced the total amount of packaging, as the eggs are delivered on special pallets from the farm. Each batch of 8,640 eggs, which are packed on farm, are ink-marked as part of traceability, before they go through the high-speed grading line.
Having started with 15 flocks, the business will have 20 by the end of the year while the existing plant can cope with 45 flocks, packing about 65m eggs a year.
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.