Ashely Bowes, OBE: Innovator transformed family’s Norfolk meat business

A Norfolk family pig business was transformed into an award-winning meat processor under the leadership of Ashley Bowes, who has died peacefully aged 74.

Highly respected in the pig industry as an innovator, he was appointed OBE in the 1998 new year's honours.

He was the oldest son of Dudley Bowes, who started the abattoir in Watton after meat rationing was scrapped in 1954. It ran alongside his extensive Breckland farming interests.

In the 1960s, the company bought a 25-acre site on the edge of the town as it continued to expand. By the 1970s, it had increasingly specialised in pigs and was among the first in the country to meet the tough new export standards set by Brussels.

In June 1982, GD Bowes & Sons was given a full EEC licence to export and the following year Mr Bowes led a five-day trade delegation to Japan to boost exports of British pork.

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The specialist meat processor had become the largest employer in Watton by the mid 1990s with almost 700 staff.

It survived a disastrous fire in October 1984 when 95pc of the abattoir and buildings were destroyed.

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The joint leadership of Mr Bowes, chairman and managing director, with brother and fellow director, Kevin, led to further major expansion. He retired as chairman in 2005.

Born in Carbrooke on May 1, 1937, he left school at the age of 15 to join his father on the farm. For Mr Bowes, it was always 'pigs, pigs and pigs' as he developed the processing and 'added-value' side of the business, anticipating major shifts in consumer buying patterns and the demand from supermarket retailers.

He took a keen interest in pig genetics but never lost sight of the key objective of producing leaner and tastier pork, especially from outdoor systems across a large part of East Anglia.

In June 1991, it won the EDP's business award and the Barclays Business of the Year Award. It was described as 'an example of all that is good about East Anglian business.' It announced plans to increase processing production from 10,000 to 17,000 pigs a week.

He was a pioneer of environmentally-friendly and high welfare pork production and worked closely to develop the RSPCA's Freedom Food scheme. He was also the first in the country to develop a market abroad for high welfare pork.

Bowes of Norfolk, as it became, helped to save the lives of haemophiliacs because blood from the abattoir was used to make Factor 8 clotting agent, thus turning what was virtually a waste product in a potential life saver.

Mr Bowes, who held a number of senior industry posts, was president of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers during the height of the BSE or 'mad cow disease' crisis.

He married Jane in 1960. He leaves a widow, three daughters, Claire, Mary and Sally and eight grandchildren.

n A service of thanksgiving will be held at St George's Church, Saham Toney, on Tuesday, February 28, 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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