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Fresh start as deal saves Norfolk-based food firm Country Fresh Produce

06:30 05 July 2012

Colin Harris, director of Fresh Direct (left) which has bought Country Fresh Produce out of administration. Pictured with James Gunns from Country Fresh Produce, who will continue to run the Hockering-based firm

Colin Harris, director of Fresh Direct (left) which has bought Country Fresh Produce out of administration. Pictured with James Gunns from Country Fresh Produce, who will continue to run the Hockering-based firm

Archant

A Norfolk food business is to get a fresh start as part of a larger national group after being bought out of adminstration in a deal securing more than 30 jobs.

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Country Fresh Produce, which supplies fresh fruit, salads and veg along with gourmet foods to the hospitality sector such as hotels, pubs and restaurants and also the education sector, went into administration last week.

But the future of the family-run business, which is based in Hockering near Dereham, has been secured after administrators Duff and Phelps sold it to Bicester-based Fresh Direct UK for an undisclosed fee.

The firm, which will now trade under the name Country Fresh Direct Ltd, will continue to be run by current managing director James Gunns and his family in a partnership with the new owners, who also have bases in Cambridge, Wigan and Scotland.

Colin Harris, director of Fresh Direct UK, whose clients include The Thistle and Marriott Hotel chains, and the Mitchells and Butler pub group, said the aim was to add the Norfolk business into a national group which has a turnover of about £160m and employs 850 people, while maintaining its local flavour.

“We are very keen to stress that this will still be very much a local company run by James and his family and that it’s business as usual,” Mr Harris said. “We have a proven track record for this and we do not look for businesses where people want to walk away; we look for businesses where we can invest in the people.”

He said the aim was to grow turnover at the Norfolk business from £3.5m to between £8m to £10m.

“All the jobs have been saved and we will definitely grow the business,” he added. “It’s unfortunate the business went into administration, we have had conversations with suppliers and while we can’t help what’s happened, what we are doing is looking for opportunities.”

No details were given of how many creditors were left out of pocket following the administration or the amounts owed, but the new owners stressed they were keen to work with existing suppliers and customers and help develop further opportunties for the business both locally and nationally.

It was almost a year ago that Country Fresh Produce unveiled ambitious plans to create a £25m-a-year business, but the complexities of operating from two bases in Norfolk and Kettering in Northamptonshire, which is to close, and a series of bad debts proved too much for the firm to bear.

Mr Gunns said: “We are here and we live to fight another day. It’s very good news for the local business, having the local supply with the bigger back up and we have got the scope to expand the business and the product range.”

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