£700,000 cooked vegetable processing site opens in Co. Down

Fresh foods producer Willowbrook Foods has invested £700,000 (€794,000) in developing a state-of-the-art production facility in Newtownards, Co. Down, with the aim of doubling its production capacity of cooked, mashed and prepared vegetable products.

Willowbrook Foods has developed the site to enhance and increase its production capability, to facilitate new product development and support its ambitious growth plans across the UK and Ireland.

Boosting production

The site – which has been owned by Willowbrook for several years – has been completely modernised to incorporate blast chillers, steam boilers, floored drainage systems and technology that will significantly boost efficiency and quality at production level.

Through the new plant, the company seeks to more than double the output of its range of around 20 cooked vegetable products from 120t to 250t weekly.

All production of Willowbrook’s cooked products has been moved to Newtownards from its existing Killinchy base, which remains the site of the company’s main offices. Willowbrook is exploring plans to redevelop its Killinchy site for further product innovation in the near future.

The future

Managing director John McCann MBE said: “The new production facility in Newtownards marks a new chapter for the company. It will allow us to focus on product innovation and maximising growth opportunities in the retail, foodservice and food manufacturing sectors across the UK and Ireland.

“Our prepared mashed vegetable products – potato, carrots, turnips, swede and parsnips, butternut squash and sweet potato – will be key during the year ahead, particularly within the foodservice and catering sectors.

“Willowbrook’s core priority is developing quality convenience projects which reflect trends in modern consumer eating habits. We have spent a lot of time fine-tuning a high-quality product, which has been proving extremely popular with customers over the last 12 months and this continued growth has helped facilitate our recent reinvestment.

“By sourcing the very best technology from across the globe, we are now well placed to offer tailored solutions for our various customer bases – from retailers to ready meal companies.”

Efficiency

Arthur Morgan, production director at Willowbrook Foods, explained how many of the new features of the factory were geared towards efficiency.

He said: “When the cooking finished, an automated valve opens and a fan switches on, creating negative air pressure. Then another vent is opened to extract the steam prior to the doors opening.

“This reduces steam in the room and is an extremely safe and efficient way of handling this part of our production process.

“The new plant also maintains positive air pressure within the cooking process, as all air comes through a filtered ventilation system.

This keeps the air very highly filtered and to a very high quality, maximising shelf life of our products. In addition, our floors were completely rebuilt to ensure drainage is managed to the highest standards through a high-care process.

“Amongst other features, the results of these introductions will allow us to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.”