A Norfolk pet food producer is hoping to increase its market share in some of the industry's newest sectors after opening a state-of-the-art £17m facility.

Eastern Daily Press: Craig Taylor, managing director of Natures Menu, at the company's new site in Snetterton during its construction. Picture: TMS MediaCraig Taylor, managing director of Natures Menu, at the company's new site in Snetterton during its construction. Picture: TMS Media (Image: TMS Media)

Natures Menu opened the factory in Snetterton – the result of a £12.5m construction and infrastructure investment and a £4.5m spend on new equipment – as part of plans to consolidate its position in the £2.6bn UK pet food market. Production started in October at the plant, which has the capacity to produce 500 tonnes of pet food a week.

There are also plans for a total refurbishment at its Watton factory, the centre of production through its 35-year history, which would see the facility shut next spring to reopen in early 2019.

Craig Taylor, Natures Menu chief executive, said all 167 Norfolk-based staff had relocated to the production floor and offices at the new factory, which is running at 70% of capacity.

He said: 'Snetterton has been built to produce 500 tonnes a week – that makes us the number one manufacturer of natural pet food in Europe. The factory has room to grow and hopefully we will fill that capacity within the next two years.'

While continuing to produce raw pet food, dry food, tins and pouches, Natures Menu is also focused on new technologies – particularly freeze-drying.

Using new machinery at Snetterton, the firm can freeze-dry chunks of meat to mix with its biscuit products.

It is also launching a new brand in January, which has already received selling commitments from hundreds of stores around the UK.

Mr Taylor said a shift in the market towards natural pet food had benefited the company. He estimates it has a 70% market share in raw pet food, an area which continues to see growth.

'People are starting to think more about their pet's food as they think about their own, in terms of health, and now it is not that much more expensive,' he said.

'Raw is growing as people now understand what it is.'

Natures Menu employs 215 people nationally across two manufacturing sites and four distribution sites. It supplies specialist pet food retailers like Pets at Home and Jollyes, and also has one grocery partner, Waitrose.

The opening of the factory follows the firm's most successful year to date, with sales increasing by almost 20% to £30.5m in the year to March 31, 2017.