New gluten-free Edme mill bolsters region’s ‘thriving’ food and drink sector
A £600,000 gluten-free mill has been launched in Essex following a six-month project to convert a redundant building.
Wholegrain ingredient company Edme, based at Mistley, near Manningtree, decided on the major investment to cater for a growing demand for wheat and gluten-free food products among consumers. Sales of wheat and gluten-free products grew by 15% last year and the trend is growing, it said.
The modern mill will make fine grades of flour from cereals such as rice, sorghum and buckwheat and pulses including dried peas and chickpeas.
Managing director Peter Tichbon said market conditions were tough, but the 130-year-old company, which employs around 80 people, was still investing and innovating.
It is hoped, over time, that it will create a further four jobs.
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The ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday was led by Mr Tichbon together with local MP Bernard Jenkin, British Baker editor Martyn Leek and Colchester Coeliac UK representative Beryl Whittingham. They were joined by local councillors and members of Coelic UK, which welcomed the launch.
Edme said that Britain’s increasing appetite for healthy foods is leading to growing demand for wholegrain with its naturally high fibre content and high nutritional value.
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Bread, cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, savoury and sweet snacks made from wholegrain - and even yogurts containing wholegrains - are now commonplace, and there was a growing demand for it from food manufacturers, bakers and chefs, it said.
The investment will enable Edme to mill thousands of tonnes of gluten-free flour a year, most of which will be used in the British food manufacturing and baking industries.
It said the figures suggest that 15% of people are now avoiding wheat or gluten - 7% because of Coeliac disease or because of allergies or intolerances and 8% for general lifestyle reasons, although gluten-free foods are not necessarily healthier as they can have higher levels of fat and additives.
New legislation means that packaged food manufacturers, pubs, restaurants and cafes now have to highlight the gluten content of the ingredient, and it is no longer enough just to label foods as containing wheat.
Edme gutted and converted a run-down building on its site to create the modern plant, which is sealed off from its other operations.
“We had to ensure that we can operate efficiently and effectively,” said Mr Tichbon.
“While avoiding risks of cross-contamination. We’ve gutted and refurbished an old building and silos and brought in brand new milling equipment. There have been quite a few challenges along the way, but we now have a top notch facility. It will produce flour food companies that cater for those with coeliac disease, those with gluten allergies, and those with a preference for gluten free.
“This has been a really exciting project to get off the ground. It’s an example of investment in East Anglia’s thriving food and drink manufacturing sector and it’s responding to a market that’s actually growing.
“The new facility will support bakers, chefs and food manufacturers who are becoming more adventurous with ingredients – and who care about quality. Our plant purpose-built milling plant is specifically designed to produce consistently fine particle size.
“It’s been good to create work for local builders and engineers along the way – we’ve used companies based less than two miles away for all the re-roofing, re-flooring and equipment installation.
“We’re talking to our local grain suppliers and farmers about the kinds of crops we’ll be looking for – which will of course largely be driven by our customers in the food industry. They in turn are responding to consumer trends and demand.”
Mr Tichbon said that the launch of an “exciting” new product was also in the pipeline for the company.
Ms Whittingham, of the Colchester branch of Coeliac UK, said: “Edme should be congratulated for the investment and commitment they’ve made.
“Their knowledge, awareness and understanding of the everyday issues people with coeliac disease or gluten allergies have to deal with - and in particular the risks from cross-contamination - was really impressive.
“They’ve taken on board the need to use different types of flours to help ensure there’s variety in the end products on the shelves in supermarkets.”
Mr Jenkin said: “This is a wonderful – and peculiarly British - company. It sits on the banks of the River Stour on a historic industrial site, and despite all the changes it’s needed to make, manages to operate across a curious assortment of listed buildings. It has been processing malted grain for 130 years but certainly hasn’t rested on its laurels. It is at the cutting edge of food science and technology – and is investing in new markets, such as gluten free.
“The company supplies bakers across the country, exports all over the world and plays a crucial role in the local community. Aren’t we lucky to have the Edme in Mistley?”