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£54m investment in Weybread poultry plant could create 400 jobs

PUBLISHED: 15:49 28 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:48 28 November 2017

The entrance to Green Farm at Edge Green, Kenninghall, the location of the former Crown Chicken chicken hatchery and animal food mill, which is now owned by Cranswick. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The entrance to Green Farm at Edge Green, Kenninghall, the location of the former Crown Chicken chicken hatchery and animal food mill, which is now owned by Cranswick. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A new £54m chicken processing plant on the Norfolk/Suffolk border could create up to 400 jobs for the region.

Cranswick Country Foods in Watton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYCranswick Country Foods in Watton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Bosses at Cranswick said the investment at its factory in Eye could almost triple the plant’s current workforce of 230.

The company has allocated a further £13m to scale up existing milling and hatchery facilities at the former Crown Chicken site in Kenninghall, which it took over when it bought Weybread-based Crown in April 2016.

Cranswick made the announcement while revealing a 23% increase in turnover to £714.6m in the six months to September 30, 2017 and a 17.2% increase in adjusted profit before tax to £44.4m in the same period.

Chief executive Adam Couch said the proposed facility, which is subject to planning permission, recognised the company’s ambitions in the poultry sector.

Adam Couch, chief executive of Cranswick, which expects to create 400 new jobs. Picture: Cranswick.Adam Couch, chief executive of Cranswick, which expects to create 400 new jobs. Picture: Cranswick.

“The site comes with a state-of-the-art hatchery and farming background but it does not have a processing facility to match that. The new site at Eye could double our through-put of birds,” he said.

Cranswick’s other East Anglian site on Brandon Road, Watton has seen almost £30m of investment in its pork processing facilities over the past five years.

Finance director Mark Bottomley said the company was in “strong shape” to continue its investment programme. “The results reflect a coming together of strong categories in chicken and pork, premium categories continuing to outperform the wider market and new business wins, particularly in poultry, which accounts for about 11% of total sales.”

The meat processing industry has been rocked by allegations of food safety breaches against 2 Sisters Food Group, which also has facilities in Norfolk and Suffolk.

But Mr Couch said Cranswick maintained high standards for food hygiene and animal welfare. “We remain at the forefront of not just operational but technical advances,” he said.

In light of Brexit, and a possible loss of EU workers, Cranswick has stepped up its apprenticeship programme significantly in the last year with 100 now employed across the company, including around 14 in Watton.

Mr Couch said that while the programme “hedges against a more difficult environment for recruiting” its growth demonstrated the business’s “great success in retaining and growing our own talent”.

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