Cranswick chief says Norfolk and Suffolk facilities will be “pivotal” in group growth

Adam Couch, chief executive of Cranswick Country Foods, Picture submitted.

Adam Couch, chief executive of Cranswick Country Foods, Picture submitted. - Credit: Archant

The East Anglian facilities of a national meat processing company will be 'pivotal' in its continued expansion, according to its chief executive.

On the production line at Cranswick's factory in Watton. Picture: Archant.

On the production line at Cranswick's factory in Watton. Picture: Archant. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Cranswick confirmed it will be investing in its processing plants in Weybread, near Diss, and Watton as part of a £70m capital expenditure plan in 2017/18.

It comes as the EDP/EADT Top 100 company recorded a 22.5% jump in revenue to £1.24bn in the year ending March 31, 2017, which a preliminary results statement said was driven by a 'strong performance' in all its categories. Pre-tax profits for the group also increased by 17.2% to £75.5m.

Chief executive Adam Couch said: 'Watton and Weybread will be pivotal. We are very much in the heart of the agricultural and the protein processing industry in the region so we are very keen to keep investing in the facilities.'

A £7m investment in the group's pork processing facility in Brandon Road, Watton, which employs around 1,000 people, was completed in 2016.

It included a £6m upgrade to its fresh pork facilities and a £1m investment in sausage-processing at the plant, with sausage orders for customers such as Tesco now being filled.

The investment was part of a record capital expenditure of £47m across the group.

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Finance director Mark Bottomley added that investment would continue to upgrade the capacity at the Watton plant.

Mr Couch said major acquisitions in 2016 had consolidated Cranswick's market position in protein processing and production.

Last April the group snapped up poultry rearing and processing firm Crown Chicken in a £40m deal. Fresh and cooked poultry now account for 11% of Cranswick's turnover, and the Crown acquisition saw poultry revenues rise by more than 180% last year.

The former Crown facility in Weybread, which employs 400 people, is set for a share of the £70m group-wide investment later this year as part of Cranswick's plans to boost its poultry business.

Mr Couch said: 'The acquisition of Crown has been a very strong move into the poultry arena and also assists us in all our supply chains for cooked poultry as well.'

He added: 'It complements our pork processing business and helps us to diversify, not just to mitigate our own risks, but to put us in the fold of a fast-growing protein sector.'

The group also bought Northern Ireland pork processing business Dunbia Ballymena, which Mr Couch said had ensured employment for 400 staff and given Cranswick 'a strong position' in a new area of the UK.

Since the sale in November, £2m has been invested in the site with a further £2m to come.

International exports were another area of growth, particularly in the Far East – the year saw a 49% jump in the value of exports to the area and new markets opening in Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and New Zealand alongside China.

On the subject of Brexit, Mr Couch said the group's efforts would be concentrated on growing its share of the domestic market in response to rising import costs from the continent.

The group also saw its dividends rise for the 27th consecutive year in its 28-year history, up from 25.9p to 31p per share.