East Anglia: Durum wheat crop for pasta set to be trialled near Beccles
06:00 13 July 2014
©Anglia Picture Agency
The development of a new Sourced Locally partnership between Great Yarmouth firm Pasta Foods and the East of England Co-op will lead to durum wheat being trialled on farmland near Beccles.
The first stage of the initiative involving the UK’s only manufacturer of dried pasta will see Fusilli and Alphabetti varieties using wheat grown in France appearing on the shelves of local Co-ops from next month.
The small-scale trial on the Sotterley estate will see 50 to 75 acres of durum wheat being planted in September and it is hoped it will yield up to 200 tonnes to blend into the Locally Sourced pasta semolina next summer.
If the technical hurdles of growing the crop can be overcome, estate farm manager Simon Thompson believes it could open up an exciting new market for local growers.
He said that while durum wheat had proved difficult to grow in our climate in the past, leading to its gradual disappearance from East Anglia, the outlook was now much more positive with new varieties coming on and improvements in growing techniques.
“It needs a high level of attention to detail and careful management when harvesting and drying,” he said.
“However, we are always keen to support someone looking for a high quality milling wheat on our doorstep.
“Durum can become an important market if we can prove we can grow the milling quality they require.”
For Pasteur Road-based Pasta Foods, which has focused on supplying pasta to food manufacturers for the past 15 years, the partnership with the Co-op represents a return to the direct retail market.
Managing director Karl Jermyn said if the venture was successful they would be looking to grow their retail sales and broker deals with other grocers.
He said: “Truly locally sourced produce, where consumers can see the journey from farm to fork, is gathering momentum all the time and local businesses supporting each other is part of that.
“In the future, I would like to see us sourcing the majority of our wheat from the UK. It can become a really important market for farms in East Anglia.”
Emphasising the potential to grow the business, Mr Jermyn said Pasta Foods’ current annual output of 12,000 tonnes of pasta represented just a 5pc share of the national market.
The company’s expansion will be facilitated by its £8m investment in a second factory in Forest Way, Norwich, which will begin production in the autumn; the new plant will focus on pasta production while its Yarmouth headquarters will concentrate on pasta snacks.
Mr Jermyn aims to grow the company’s current £26m turnover to £40m within five years.
Kevin Warden, local and fresh food products manager for East of England Co-op, said the Locally Sourced pasta had received a “fantastic reaction” when it was launched at a joint stand with Pasta Foods at the Royal Norfolk Show.
He said: “People want to know where their food comes from these days. If you put British strawberries and Norfolk strawberries on a shelf, they will buy Norfolk.”
He said if the Fusilli and Alphabetti proved a success they would look to extend the range.
Pasta Foods’ commercial buyer John Bagley said: “People visiting the show did not know who we were - and they were amazed they would be able to buy locally sourced pasta.”