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The UK's food production capital uncovered

07-Jun-2004

Building on its impressive fishing legacy, Grimsby has become the food processing capital of the UK. Anthony Fletcher asks what it is about the area that appeals to manufacturers, and finds out how the council is aiming to attract further business.

Grimsby, situated on the north east coast of the UK, is home to one of the largest concentrations of food processors in Europe. Today, over 500 food and food-related companies are based in the area. These include brands names such as Birds Eye, Geest, Mariners and Baxters.

Production is concentrated at three main sites, and 90 per cent of the businesses at the 500-acre Europark operate in the food industry. According to Andrew Moore, economic development manager for North East Lincolnshire County Council, it is the concentration of business itself that is attractive to food manufacturers.

 

The advantage of this, he says, is that businesses can more easily establish joint ventures with suppliers. He mentions an advert on British TV, in which two businessmen on mobile phones discover that they are in fact working next door to each other.

 

"Many manufacturers are actively encouraging their supply chains here," he told FoodProductionDaily.com. "Soon we will have the tightest concentration of food manufacturing in Europe."

 

The production of ready meals now forms a significant proportion of food production in the region, though the industry most historically associated with Grimsby is fishing. Although the region's fishing fleet is a fraction of what it was back in the 1950s, Grimsby is still the fish processing capital of the UK.

 

Between 50 and 70 per cent of the country's white fish is processed in the town, which amounts to over 750,000 tons a year. It is this, said Moore, which forms the foundation of the region's food processing industry.

 

"As a legacy of the fishing industry, Grimsby has the largest concentration of cold storage in Europe,"he said. "The skills developed in fish processing have over the years been translated into other aspects of the food industry. For example, all Haagen Dazs ice cream in the UK is at some stage stored in Grimsby."

 

It is not just the legacy of Grimsby's fish processing that has resulted in such an impressive concentration of food manufacturers. Moore points out that the town has excellent transport links - it boasts the largest port in the UK and is four hours from a population of some 40 million.

 

But viewed in isolation, the town's location and its history of fish processing are not sufficient incentives in today's globalised economy, where the mobility of capital and labour means that manufacturers can often relocate without too much difficulty. The challenge today for Grimsby is how it can remain competitive, keep the companies that have chosen to locate in the region and attract new investment.

 

In this respect, the council has become much more proactive in recent years. Grimsby, says Moore, has become known as Europe's food town, and the council is keen to promote the North East Lincolnshire region as the Food Matrix.

 

"We are trying to encourage those businesses that are related to food, such as engineering, packaging and transport, are also choosing to locate here. Ideally, I want to be able to look out of my window and see the complete supply chain in front of me." In order to attract these sort of businesses to the region, the council puts together grant packages that identify what funds are available and how firms should go about securing them. There are regional development grants, Financial Instruments for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) grants, and several smaller European grants. Each package is tailored to each individual company.

 

"Another things we can do as a council is to encourage the reprocessing of waste," said Moore. "We know we've got a lot of it, and I predict that in three years, it will be costing processors £250 a ton for landfill waste. If we anticipate this and direct our efforts to providing processors with a means of avoiding this cost, then this should attract business."

 

Moore says that he has receiving attention from reprocessing companies interested in taking away waste from food manufacturers for free. "But we are only receiving this interest because of the concentration of manufacturers here," he points out. "This is what makes it economical for waste reprocessors. It's one of those situations in which everyone can win."

 

The pressure on food manufactures from both retailers and regulators means that achieving processing efficiency and complete supply chain integration are more important than ever. The Grimsby model, with its concentration of food manufacturers and suppliers, is perhaps indicative of what the sector must do thrive in what amounts to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

 

"The companies here have not felt the draught of closures as badly as in other parts of the country," said Moore. "I think they are more resilient because of the concentration of businesses."

 

Moore also claims that he knows of more than 25 food companies that are thinking of expanding in the region, and points out that in the last 12 months, nearly every business in Europark has extended its premises.

 

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