£200,000 butchery expansion helps pig producers Swannington Farm to Fork reach more customers
- Credit: Archant
A Norfolk pig producer has completed a £200,000 expansion of its butchery business as it seeks to broaden its increasingly diverse local customer base.
Swannington Farm to Fork, based in the village of the same name near Reepham, produces about 14,000 pigs per year from its herd of 700 sows, most of which are destined for Waitrose stores.
But an increasing number are heading to the firm's own butchery, launched in 2004 as a means of insulating the farm against the vulnerability of only having one major customer.
It now supplies 180 catering outlets across Norfolk and north Suffolk, including pubs, restaurants, hotels and cafes as well as the UEA and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.
A growth of about 15pc per year has prompted the recent investment in the size and efficiency of the butchery, which has increased floor space by 40pc, giving the team of five butchers more room to manoeuvre, and adding cold-store capacity to hang meat from pigs, cattle, lamb and poultry.
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There is also an unloading dock with a mechanical unloading arm to take the physical stress out of moving carcasses, and a purpose built manufacturing area has given more space for the two operators of mincing, slicing and processing machines to make sausage, bacon, burgers and mince.
Managing director Rob Mutimer said the butchery now has the potential to generate 50pc of the family firm's turnover – a significant diversification from its original, isolated income stream.
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'With the new butchery at full tilt, it could become 50pc by value of turnover in the not-too-distant future,' he said. 'At the moment the split is maybe 65/35 in favour of the pigs.
'The aspiration is to keep growing the business at 15pc a year. To do that we need to have a balanced mix of pubs, restaurants and schools and college catering facilities so we can balance out the carcass. It is all very well selling the best bits to the top end of the market. But a restaurant selling high quality meats and a burger van selling burgers are equally important customers, because it helps us make best use of the whole animal.
'We are looking for more of the same kind of customers, and we feel there is a massive market for us within Norfolk and north Suffolk.
'But we are also seeing a lot more consolidation in the pub business. There are a lot of pubs in small chains now. Colchester Inns are one of our biggest customers and their business controls four different pubs. That is happening more often in the pub sector and we have to be of a size to cope with chains of pubs, not just individuals.'
The expansion was partly funded by a £56,000 grant from the European LEADER fund. Virtually all of the pork processed by the butchery is from the farm's own stock, and it also processes beef from a farm in Hevingham, as well as some poultry and lamb.
Mr Mutimer, who recently joined the board of national industry body AHDB Pork, said the Waitrose contract was still central to his business, and it complemented the growing butchery operation.
'What it means is that if we produce our pigs to the standard that is wanted by Waitrose, it gives us an unlimited amount of high welfare pigs that we can call on at any time to go to the butchery business,' he said.
'When we looked at our business in the late 1990s we were totally reliant on one customer. Waitrose is a fantastic customer but it left us in a vulnerable situation. That's when we started to market our own pigs to shops and catering outlets in Norfolk.'
The farm was started by Mr Mutimer's parents Tom and Janet in the 1970s, and its livestock operations, including 200 breeding ewes, are overseen by his wife Helen, who is a vet by trade. The pigs are outdoor-bred and reared up to 25kg in tents before being finished indoors on straw.