New Cranswick chicken factory at Eye has begun recruiting for up to 900 new jobs

Cranswick chicken factory at Eye Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Cranswick chicken factory at Eye Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS - Credit: Archant

A new £74m hi-tech chicken processing factory – set to employ up to 900 staff – is taking shape in north Suffolk in response to growing demand for British meat.

Cranswick chicken factory at Eye Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS

Cranswick chicken factory at Eye Picture: SARAH CHAMBERS - Credit: Archant

Adam Couch, boss at Yorkshire-based meat giant Cranswick - which is building what's thought to be the most advanced poultry unit in Europe at a site in Eye - says Brexit, combined with growing demand for low food miles and animal welfare mean that the homegrown meat products market is booming.

The building work at the facility is now about two thirds finished, with the shell complete. Inside fitting is still to be done, and should be completed by the end of 2019. The site is expected to be ready to process chickens around April 2020.

MORE - £60m poultry factory, set to employ 700 workers, under construction in Eye"We are gearing everybody up for the early part of April for production," said Mr Couch.

"It's an extremely technologically advanced site - probably the most technologically advanced in Europe to date."

Adam Couch, chief executive, Cranswick Picture: PETER CHAMBERS

Adam Couch, chief executive, Cranswick Picture: PETER CHAMBERS - Credit: Archant

Recruitment across a wide range of specialist jobs, from IT through to management, has already begun.

The firm employs about 350 to 400 staff at its chicken factory at nearby Weybread - which it bought from Crown Chicken in 2016 and which produces all of its chickens.

The plan is for those staff to transfer to the Eye site, but many more will be needed. The fate of the Weybread factory is still undecided, he said, but one possibility is that it could still be used for production purposes, ramping up the firm's capacity still further.

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The Eye site will take in chickens from Cranswick's own indoor high welfare British Assured units, which are mainly based in Norfolk and Suffolk and all within an hour of the site.

"The demand for British meat is becoming stronger and stronger now - there may be an element of Brexit kicking in there," said Mr Couch. Added to this, there were concerns about keeping food miles down and environmental concerns, he added.

The plant, whose anchor customer will be supermarket giant Morrisons, will provide a welcome boost to the local and regional economy. By moving to the new site, the company will be able to nearly double its production.

The factory at Weybread and its Eye replacement is the company's only chicken facility. It currently supplies less than 3% of the homegrown chicken market, but this will take it to about 5% or 6%.

"It's a huge investment for us - this is the largest investment we have made to date."

The company had given a lot of consideration to the setting, and feels the new site is well connected and ideal for its purposes, explained Mr Couch.

"It's a very imposing facility," he added. "Our footprint in East Anglia is becoming stronger." Cranswick's site at Watton in Norfolk is already one of the largest pig processing sites in the country.

The company has striven to provide a high quality environment for employees at the new Eye site, with a canteen which will serve hot, subsidised meals. "We want to be the employer of choice in the region," said the firm's chief executive.

Additional investment is planned across Cranswick's farming and feed-milling infrastructure.