Minding their peas without queues

WORK has begun on the 2006 pea harvest - marking 60 years of frozen pea production at the Birds Eye factory in Lowestoft.With just six weeks to pick and freeze around 50,000 tonnes of peas, Birds Eye and its suppliers will be working around the clock to achieve the company's target of freezing every pea within two and a half hours of it being picked.

WORK has begun on the 2006 pea harvest - marking 60 years of frozen pea production at the Birds Eye factory in Lowestoft.

With just six weeks to pick and freeze around 50,000 tonnes of peas, Birds Eye and its suppliers will be working around the clock to achieve the company's target of freezing every pea within two and a half hours of it being picked.

The sophisticated operation involves 21 harvesters and 400 growers organised into six cooperatives, with Birds Eye employing up to 750 people on its site at any one time to make sure the deadline is hit.

Between picking and freezing the process also involves cleaning and quality control checks, with the whole procedure being overseen by Colin Wright, head of agriculture at Unilever Ice Cream and Frozen Food, of which the Birds Eye factory in Lowestoft is part.


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Mr Wright, who can probably claim to know everything there is to be known about peas, has been involved in 35 harvests, accounting for more than half the history of the process since it began in the town in 1946.

The Birds Eye pea harvest produces around 350 billion peas a year, enough to fill 144 Olympic-sized swimming pools. With a maximum diameter of 10.4mm specified by the company, it would take more than 390 million peas to outline the coast of Britain.

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More to the point, Britons consume an average of nearly 9,000 peas per person each year, with peas from the Lowestoft factory being distributed across the UK.

Birds Eye peas are completely additive free - and always have been - and the company claims they compare favourably in nutritional terms with fresh peas.

The fast freezing process not only preserves the flavour and texture of the peas but also “locks in” vitamin C and other important nutrients. In contrast, fresh peas may well not reach the plate until 24 hours after they are picked.

Lowestoft is the original home of the quick freezing process in the UK and has a second claim to fame with a Birds Eye Frozen Peas commercial being the first TV ad to be broadcast in colour, in 1969.

However, this year's harvest could be the last under the factory's current ownership with parent company Unilever having announced in February that it planned to sell most of its European frozen foods business, including the Lowestoft site.

Despite the additive-free and nutritional properties of frozen peas, Unilever blamed the decision on a general move by consumers away from frozen foods in favour of chilled convenience products.

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