‘We love Suffolk’ – why county is part of Woodbridge duck meat brand’s DNA
- Credit: Lucy Taylor
Next year will be a significant one for Gressingham Foods, a duck and niche meat products firm which started life in 1971.
It will be the 50th anniversary of the founding of the £120m turnover business, which employs 650 staff, rising to 1000 in the run-up to Christmas.
The story of the brand begins when Gressingham's founders, Maurice and Miriam Buchanan, moved from Northern Ireland and started their farm in Debach, near Woodbridge.
MORE - Are you game for a wild boar burger? Suffolk food firm puts unusual meats on Asda BBQ menuThe company, now run by the couple's two sons, William and Maurice, still has its Debach headquarters as well as running a larger operation at Redgrave, in north Suffolk.
Maurice built two sheds by hand and started farming chickens, but the couple soon realised they wanted to try something different.
"They contacted a small-scale duck farmer in the Lake District, who had begun to develop a new, tasty breed of duck - a cross between the succulent Peking duck and the flavoursome Wild Mallard," explains William.
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"In 1989, the first Gressingham Ducks arrived at the family farm in Debach - by train.
"200 ducklings were taken on the train from Peterborough and were picked up in Cambridge by Maurice and Miriam. Over the following two years, they perfected the breed and the remarkable Gressingham Duck was born.
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"One generation on, we are still rearing delicious the Gressingham Duck from our Red Tractor assured farms in East Anglia along with turkeys and geese for Christmas."
William, who studied business at Reading University, and went to work at Sainsburys as a poultry buyer for a year before leaving to start up the duck business with his brother and father, says the family and the brand retain a strong affinity for the place where the Gressingham journey began.
"We love Suffolk - it is a key area for poultry production and farming," explains William.
"Many of our farmers started off as pure arable farmers and then adapted some of their land for duck farming. There is a fantastic farming community and so many brilliant small to medium sized up and coming food brands, not to mention all of the top quality restaurants and pubs which is where we started off selling our products."
The company works closely with local chef Vernon Blackmore who helps develop new recipes for the Gressingham website and recipe guides.
Gressingham also hosts many of its staff celebrations in his restaurants. It has tied up with several other local food brands for joint competitions such as Kettle Crisps, Hill Farm Oil, Adnams and Aspalls.
"We also work with Stokes Sauces (of Rendlesham) who make some of the sauces that go in our Bistro range of products. We use Suffolk based marketing, design and PR agencies to help us strengthen and grow our brand," William explains.
Today, Gressingham has 16 company-owned commercial duck farms and 22 contract commercial duck farms across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. It also has goose and turkey farms in East Anglia.
"Our business is well established here and we have a great workforce that all reside in East Anglia. We have invested heavily in our offices, factories and farms so there is no need for us to move," says William.
The brothers' aim now is to inspire even more people to start cooking with duck in their homes by developing new recipes and products.
"We also want to continue to grow our turkey and goose sales at Christmas which is a key period for us."
2021 will be an important milestone for the business, and it intends to mark the occasion by publishing its very own Gressingham cookbook full of duck and speciality poultry recipes.
"We will also be holding a big party and working on some charity projects to give back to the local community," he says.
On his wider business wish-list is better road infrastructure and links for the county and region, and a guarantee of access to labour after Brexit.