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Mustard and mint growers hopeful of retaining historic supply lines to Colman’s of Norwich

Norfolk mint grower David Bond. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Norfolk mint grower David Bond. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Farmers growing mustard and mint for the Colman’s factory in Norwich hope their historic supply line will continue as bosses consider the firm’s future location.

Cambridgeshire farmer Michael SlyCambridgeshire farmer Michael Sly

After 200 years of milling mustard in Norwich, Colman’s owner Unilever has launched a review into the firm’s future in the city after drinks firm Britvic, which shares its site at Carrow Works, announced proposals to move its production.

About 60pc of the factory’s mustard is supplied by English Mustard Growers, a partnership of 18 farmers based in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, who deliver around 1,400 tonnes of seed per year to the mustard mill in Norwich – believed to be the only one of its kind in Europe.

One of the growers is Michael Sly, who farms in Thorney in Cambridgeshire. He said he was heartened by the firm’s stated commitment to “work hard to retain this link”. He said: “The mustard growers of the East of England have been supplying Colman’s since 1814, and we do not see the demise of English mustard production.

“We are cautiously optimistic that mustard growing and manufacturing, which has been part of rural life of East Anglia for the last 200 years, will still continue and be part of the fabric of East Anglia. Even though I’m out near Peterborough, we have the same emotional attachment to this brand as the citizens of Norwich. We have only ever supplied Colman’s, so that passion runs with us too.”

READ MORE: Britvic and Unilever Norwich factory closures: What we know so far

One key ingredient which is entirely reliant on the location of the factory is mint, which is currently grown within a 30-mile radius of Carrow, because the delicate leaves would become bruised and unusable if transported too far before being pickled and processed into mint sauce.

Blofield farmer David Bond is one of four partners in the Norfolk Mint Growers group, which gathers 800 tonnes of the herb a year. He said: “We want to carry on growing mint. We have got the right climate and the right soil, so we are in the perfect place for the variety we grow and we hope Colman’s retains a presence in Norwich, and that we can carry on growing for them.”

A Unilever spokesman said: “Colman’s has been an important part of Norwich and the surrounding area for more than 200 years and, whatever the outcome of the review, we will work hard to retain this link. We remain firmly committed to UK manufacturing.

“We’re committed to treating our employees and suppliers fairly, and providing support during this difficult time.”

INDUSTRY REACTION

Norfolk’s food and farming leaders have added to the calls for the Colman’s brand to stay in Norwich.

Greg Smith, chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, said: “Britvic’s announcement is disappointing news for the region’s food, drink and agriculture sector, and especially difficult for the people directly affected.

“Colman’s mustard has been an important part of this sector for many generations and is one of the county’s most iconic food brands. While we understand the challenges of modern food production we would encourage Unilever to consider the heritage of the brand, and importantly the jobs it creates in Norfolk, before making any final decisions.”

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