THE world’s only producer of vegetarian products based on micro protein said it was pressing ahead with a £35m investment on Teesside as it revealed strong growth forecasts for its Quorn brand.
Peter Banks, commercial director of Teesside-based Marlow Foods, a £130m turnover company which was bought by Premier Foods in 2007, said sales growth would be in excess of 12% for the UK. “Outside of that, we would expect to go even higher into double digits,” he said.
The firm, which employs 340 across sites at Belasis in Billingham and Stokesley and a further 420 at a site in Norfolk, said it would enter new markets outside of its EU and US strongholds this year as appetite for low-fat, healthy diets increased.
It would also continue building its hand-held snack food ranges and expand further into the school meals sector, which had grown “significantly” last year. With a 55% slice of the entire meat-free market in the UK and double-digit volume growth every year for the past five years, Mr Collins said the firm had squeezed 25% additional capacity out of its existing two plants on Teesside while construction continued on a third fermentation unit.
“But we are now going to split the project into two. We are going to invest in uprating the site’s services, for example cooling and heating, so we can delay the start of the third plant until we need it,” he added.
“The first phase of the project will be completed in 2009, the second will be put on hold. But we expect to review it on a very regular basis because of the growth we are experiencing in new and existing markets.”
He said the existing plant would only have enough capacity to handle production for another two years if demand for Quorn continued at its current pace.
A long development lead time and technical barriers to micro protein production had deterred rivals, said the company, which supplies chilled products to the UK, Belgium and Holland and frozen to all other markets.
Mr Banks, who has spent 15 years building the Quorn brand at Marlow, was recently honoured with a unique special achievement award by Food From Britain – the food industry’s soon-to-be disbanded export agency. He said he regretted the Government’s decision. “It is always sad to lose an opportunity to talk about what is a brilliant industry outside of the UK,” he said. Marlow’s parent company Premier Foods boosted its debt-reduction drive yesterday by revealing a £45m offer for its French frozen patisserie business. The St Albans-based company said the “firm offer” for Martine Specialites came from private equity funds. The group previously reported sales up 9% in 2008.