Birds Eye Lowestoft factory investment is ‘vote of confidence’

BIRDS Eye’s Lowestoft factory and its future has been given a huge vote of confidence after it received a �5.7million investment despite growing speculation the company is up for sale.

With rumours rife about its future, the site on Whapload Road has recently benefited from the installation of a new production line for its poultry products, equipping workers with the latest technology and creating 20 new jobs.

Craig Hamilton, general manager of Birds Eye in Lowestoft, hailed the move a “great vote of confidence” and has not ruled out further investment in the future.

But he has refused to comment on recent media speculation which suggested the Iglo group, Europe’s largest frozen food company, was on the market for �2.5bn.

Mr Hamilton said: “When we left Unilever to become part of Permira our poultry business was not growing a large amount.

“But since we changed ownership we have seen our production nearly double from 20,000 tonnes to 35,000 tonnes.

“We invested �5.7m over the end of last year to the start of this year in order to increase our capacity. It is a great vote of confidence for us. We have seen double the amount of capital investment in this site under Permira.

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“I am sure there will be more investment in the future. We invested last year in the Rice Fusion products for both the UK and the overseas markets, and we have invested in new technology several times in recent years.”

Previous reports have stated Iglo is up for sale and a number of potential buyers had approached its private equity owner Permira.

Permira bought Iglo for 1.7bn euros (�1.4bn) from Unilever in 2006 and expanded the business by buying Findus Italy for 800m euros (�669m) in 2010.

Reports last month said that buy-out rivals such as Blackstone, BC Partners, and Cinven were likely to take part in an auction of the Iglo company.

Commenting on the future outlook for the Lowestoft site, Mr Hamilton said: “I would say as long as we continue to be cost-competitive then there is a future for the Lowestoft factory.

“We are in a fortunate position that we have a very skilled work force and we have invested well- hopefully that can continue.”

The new process line and packing operation was set-up in an existing factory space on the South End of the North Denes site, which employs about 750 workers.

It provides an end-to-end production facility from processing of raw materials, to packaging the poultry products so they are ready for supermarkets and local shops.

Waveney MP Peter Aldous said: “Any investment in facilities is to be welcomed. It is an endorsement of the many years of loyal service from their work force.”

Iglo, run by Martin Glenn who revitalised the Walkers Crisp brand, makes poultry and potato waffle products at Lowestoft and has operations at Bremerhaven and Reken in Germany and Cisterna in Italy.

Birds Eye shocked growers in Norfolk and Suffolk in 2010 by bringing an end to a 64-year pea growing tradition by not renewing contracts for the supply of peas to its Lowestoft factory processing plant following the loss of major export order.