Mistley: Flour and flakes firm Edme is mixing it with the best

Edme, an Essex-based malted products company with a long and varied history, is continuing to invest for the future, having substantially reinvented its business over the past decade. Duncan Brodie went to see its managing director, David Amos

HAVING been incorporated in 1896 as The English Diastatic Malt Extract Company Limited – “diastatic” referring to a biological process of separation – it is perhaps not surprising that the business, based at Mistley, near Manningtree, has become known simply as “Edme”.

Even its full title, however, represents an economy of language compared with its predecessor, The Condensed Wort and Brewer’s Meal Company, which is thought to have begun producing malt extract on the same site in 1881.

And to prove that the use of acronyms is not entirely a modern phenomenon when its comes to matters of corporate identity, Edme officially became Edme Ltd (or, to be strictly accurate, EDME Ltd) in 1897, less than a year after its incorporation.

Besides making life, or at least pronunciation, easier for all concerned, the decision also proved far-sighted in that it also avoided a dilemma when, 102 years later, the Edme business began to take on its present form by selling the malt extract business which had originally inspired its name.

By 1999, Edme had also developed a “dry” business, involving the production of malted flours and flakes, alongside the extract business and, while it accounted for only a small proportion of turnover, the dry side was profitable while malt extraction production was incurring heavy losses.

Similar difficulties in the early 1970s had resulted in Edme, until then an independent business, becoming part of the Crisp maltings group (Munton & Fison, Bairds and R W Paul were also approached), but this time a more radical solution was adopted and the malt extract business was sold off to Novartis.

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Having down-sized the overall business, significant additional volume was added to the dry side in 2001 with the acquisition of the John Hare Corporation, whose business was incorporated into the operation at Mistley.

Edme now consists of three main areas: flours and flakes , both containing malted flavours, and blends containing grains and seeds for specialist breads. (The company has recently resumed the supply of some malt extract products but the extract is manufactured elsewhere and arrives by tanker for packaging.)

End-use customers, some supplied directly and others through wholesalers, include major national bread bakers, supermarkets with in-store bakeries and small craft bakers. Export trade is a particular area of focus, with nearly 30% of sales now going overseas to a total of 28 countries.

Managing director David Amos, who oversaw the strategic disposal and acquisition deals and remains at the helm today, said the John Hare business had brought with it a strong reputation for innovation and had been more focused on supplying millers while Edme over many years had largely supplied bakers.

The age of the existing buildings on the site belies the hi-tech production processes which go on inside. The flaking process, or example, involves each piece of grain being screened individually for colour and shape. Light material is blown away, fragments of stone or metal are heavier than the grain and fragments of straw, although possibly of the same size and weight, are of different shape and these too are recognised.

A small lab at the end of the process checks samples for specification, separate from the main quality control lab elsewhere on the site.

Edme also has a development area involving mini versions of all the kit on the site and a technical centre which customers can use for the developing new products.

Mr Amos is keen to point out that the investment of recent years has also involved people as well as equipment, and this has included a close partnership with Otley College.

A total of 76 people are currently employed on the site, around 80% of them from the local area who have built successful careers after joining in training roles.

“In the past I think we were seen as the local employer of last resort,” he says. “It is now an exciting place to be.”

The latest change for the company came in 2006 with the acquisition of the wider business which included Crisps by a group of private investors.

Mr Amos said there were plans for the Edme business to relocate to Colchester, to a site alongside what is now the Colchester United football stadium, but the onset of recession saw this plan dropped and a decision was taken to invest in the Mistley site.

Around �1.5million was spent “to bring the site to where is needed to be”, he says, although this is by no means the end of the firm’s ambitions to develop its facilities.

The site currently has two separate entrances and the aim is to create a new internal road way within the site so that lorries can enter through one and exit by the other, so avoiding the need to back out on to the road. There are also plans to build a new production unit in place of a former boiler house (with the “Edme” chimney, a familiar local landmark, being retained although it is now redundant).

Funding for the road project is to come from the development of apartments on land between the maltings complex and the Thorn public house, an area known as the Abbey. The scheme involves a mix of conversion and new build, and planning permission is in place.

However, the new production unit would be funded through the redevelopment of a warehouse site owned by Mistley across the road at Thorn Quay, which has yet to negotiate the planning stage.

The warehouse, which was previously used for the production of home brew kits as well as for storage, is now disused and largely derelict.

A proposal for the site has been designed by Leeds architect Ian Tod, who was also responsible for a residential conversion just up the road, and, says Mr Amos, offers improved sight lines to the river compared with the existing structure.

The plans involved apartments with car parking below, taking into account the site’s vulnerability to flooding, and also incoporates some new warehouse space in order to comply with a Local Plan requirement to make allowance for the needs of the quay (which is under separate ownership).

Although mindful of possible opposition, Mr Amos is hopeful that the development of Thorn Quay will also get the go-ahead.

“It we do not do it, it will become a millstone around our necks”, he says.