Bring out the Branston hits fever pitch

By Dave GooderhamLOVE it or loathe it, good old Branston Pickle is a particular favourite sandwich ingredient around the Christmas table.But following a devastating factory fire at the home of the popular filling, rumours are sweeping the country of a pickle crisis, fuelling panic-buying and furious internet bidding.

By Dave Gooderham

LOVE it or loathe it, good old Branston Pickle is a particular favourite sandwich ingredient around the Christmas table.

But following a devastating factory fire at the home of the popular filling, rumours are sweeping the country of a pickle crisis, fuelling panic-buying and furious internet bidding.

The blaze at the Premier Foods factory in Bury St Edmunds on Wednesday devastated more than half of the building, but bosses played down fears that it would cause a pickle shortage.

Concentrating more on the huge clean-up operation and a repair bill running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, company managers said they were not expecting any pickle production problems.

But consumers have begged to differ, with supermarkets unable to meet demand from shoppers fearing a pickle-less festive period.

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Now budding auctioneers on internet site eBay have got in on the act by selling the popular jars under the banner "get it while stocks last".

By last night there were 18 jars of Branston Pickle for sale, with the highest bid on one lot standing at £6.51 - almost six times what customers would pay in a shop.

Although the seller stressed any money raised would go to charity, others make no attempt to disguise the fact their actions have been prompted by the huge fire.

One stated "Branston Pickle - factory burnt down buy now", while others just pointed to the apparently dwindling stocks.

While only a few of the lots have received bids, one of the more hopeful auctioneers has said he would close his auction and sell his Branston Pickle jar immediately for £50.

Supermarkets have also noticed a higher-than-normal demand for Branston Pickle - and customers hoping to pick up a jar in the Sainsbury's store in Bury St Edmunds on Saturday would have been severely disappointed as the shelves were bare.

Staff were expecting the 30 jars urgently brought in overnight to have disappeared off the shelves by closing time yesterday.

A spokesman for the store said: "Our supplies are limited and I have never known anything like this. Pickle is always popular in the run-up to Christmas, but the fire seems to have made people buy it even more. I'm not sure when it is going to be back to normal."

At its height, more than 150 firefighters from four counties battled the blaze at Premier Foods in Mildenhall Road.

A subsequent joint investigation by fire and police chiefs revealed it had started when the heat from halogen lights set fire to plastic packaging.

Company bosses have pledged to learn from the investigation and reassured workers that production would restart at the factory in the near future.

Its crisis manager, Brian Carlton, refuted fears the fire would cause a nationwide shortage of Branston pickle and added: "The clean-up operation is continuing and we hopefully will be up and running as soon as possible."

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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