Suffolk tomato producer is saved weeks after closing

Rising gas prices had caused Sterling Suffolk to close tomato production

Rising gas prices had caused Sterling Suffolk to close tomato production - Credit: Paul Geater

The future of Suffolk’s largest tomato producer is now looking much brighter after rocketing gas prices caused the business to close. 

Finance firm Amberside ALP has taken over the operations of a massive greenhouse between Bramford and Blakenham from Sterling Suffolk, which shut earlier this month due to increases in the cost of gas to heat the greenhouse and regulate the temperature. 

Production will resume as soon as possible at the site once plants have been sourced to populate the greenhouse.

Sterling Suffolk's greenhouses produced millions of tomatoes.

Sterling Suffolk's greenhouses produced millions of tomatoes. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

David Scrivens, director of Amberside ALP, said former staff from Sterling Suffolk would be re-hired for the new venture, while more sustainable and cost-effective energy solutions were being sought. 

One possibility was to use excess CO2 gas produced by a nearby energy-from-waste facility to power the greenhouse, while another was to use biomass boilers. 

Initially, the new owners will focus on selling tomatoes to the local market before moving on to larger retailers and supermarkets. 

Mr Scrivens said Richard Lewis, the former managing director at the site, would be returning to the new operation on a temporary basis to assist with the changeover to new management. 

Former Sterling Suffolk managing director Richard Lewis 

Former Sterling Suffolk managing director Richard Lewis - Credit: Archant

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He added that Amberside ALP looked to invest in ethical, environmentally-sustainable projects and the tomato production fitted this strategy. 

“We feel that growing plants is really important and the quality of food supply is really important so we think there is a good long term need to grow responsibly in the UK,” he said. 

There is a market for the product, Mr Scrivens added, but Sterling Suffolk was hit by the global energy crisis, which caused the closure. 

The greenhouse went into full production in 2019 and last year announced plans to increase in size by 50% and increase its workforce from 70 to 100 employees. 

The aim was to provide a local alternative to imported tomatoes from the Netherlands, Spain and north Africa and Sterling Suffolk had planned to build 17 hectares of greenhouses. 

But the rise in gas prices that started last autumn - and has continued with sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine - ended those plans and resulted in the firm closing.