‘Fabulous’ £75m mega factory at Eye – set to process 1m chickens a week – is up and running

PUBLISHED: 06:00 25 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:21 31 January 2020

Cranswick's chicken factory at Eye  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Cranswick's chicken factory at Eye Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Sarah Chambers

An 800-strong workforce has moved into meat giant Cranswick’s biggest factory project to date and production has begun.

Adam Couch, chief executive, Cranswick  Picture: PETER CHAMBERS/CRANSWICKAdam Couch, chief executive, Cranswick Picture: PETER CHAMBERS/CRANSWICK

Cranswick chief executive Adam Couch expressed his delight at how well the £75m operation had gone, with the successful transfer of staff from an older chicken factory at nearby Weybread now complete.

"It's an absolutely fabulous site - one of the largest processors in the UK as a site," he said.

"We'll demolish the older site at Weybread. All the workforce has moved out and it was a pretty smooth transition."

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A total of around 500 staff moved over from the old site and a further 300 have been taken on.

Cranswick's chicken factory at Eye  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSCranswick's chicken factory at Eye Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

The move has enabled Cranswick to embrace a much more sustainable, efficient model, with reduced use of water and energy built into the system, and state-of-the-art premises and equipment.

It's the largest project the £1.7bn turnover company, based in Yorkshire, has ever undertaken, he said, with 250 contractors working on site at the peak of the building work. The build was complete just a week late on November 11. By the time the factory gets up to full speed, it will probably account for about 20% to 25% of overall turnover (around £300m to £400m), estimated Mr Couch.

"We are used to building sites and spending a lot of money on them, but this was probably twice the size," he said. Some of Cranswick's best people were working there, he added.

With just a fraction of the 40-acre site needed for the current factory, there is also room for major expansion of the greenfield site in the future - potentially doubling its size - should the company decided on further investment.

Cranswick's chicken factory at Eye  Picture: SARAH CHAMBERSCranswick's chicken factory at Eye Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

"It was a great greenfield operation," said Mr Couch.

It's one of 17 Cranswick processing sites across the UK - and its only primary processing plant for chicken, as the company's major products are pork-related.

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Its anchor customer for the chicken products from Eye is Morrisons, for which Cranswick is a major supplier.

The broiler chickens for the factory are supplied by a series of local Cranswick-owned and run farm operations, mainly across Norfolk and Suffolk. These are grown from eggs produced in-house by the company, and fed on Cranswick's own feed - coming from two nearby mills at Eye and Kenninghall. The birds, reared indoors, are all Red Tractor approved, and as they are reared locally, the meat produced at the factory will have very low food miles.

"It's a completely integrated system," said Mr Couch. "It's very much a sustainable story."

The plant is working up to producing 1m chickens a week by around April 2020, but it is still in the process of ramping up production and working through the routine teething problems associated with a big move, said Mr Couch.

Seasonal added value products such as barbecue chicken will be added into the mix later on.

"I have been in this business now nearly 30 years and this is the most ambitious project we have ever done," he said. "This is a diversification - we were known for pork."

The firm wanted to build a sustainable model, he added.

Cranswick already operates three food processing sites and runs pig and chicken farming operations across Norfolk and Suffolk employing more than 2,000 people in the region.

It employs around 200 staff in its agricultural division, which includes its hatchery and feed mill operations as well as its chicken-rearing farms, which number around 56 and are mainly based around Suffolk and Norfolk.

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