Speaking last week (February 9) at the company’s new £30M abattoir at Ellesmere in Shropshire, which employs around 800 people and processes over 1,000 cattle a week and claims to be a “pioneer in dry-aged beef for UK retail”, Kirwan said it represented a substantial investment by the company, despite all the uncertainty surrounding agriculture and Brexit.
Kirwan admitted that one of the main obstacles to consent at Shrewsbury being granted by the local authority related to increased lorry movements generated by the expansion. “We are toing and froing on a few key points on traffic in the area, so it’s imminent,” said Kirwan.
The Shrewsbury site also currently employs around 800 staff and if the new development gets the go ahead, it would create a further 300 jobs, he said. Both plants are supplied by around 2,500 key farmers in the region.
‘This part of rural Britain’
“So we see ourselves very much as part of this part of rural Britain,” he added. “We like to keep the abattoirs near to the farming and that’s been our business model in the UK. We have found a model that does work effectively at smallish numbers.”
However, he admitted that this approach was kept constantly under review since it had a much lower throughput than abattoirs such as those operated by JBS in South America, which processed around 2,000 cattle a day in some of its plants. “But we have a value on the shorter the distance from farm to abattoir – better quality product.”
The development at the Shrewsbury site will enhance ABP’s capacity to pack products for retail, Kirwan said. “We have outgrown the existing operation,” he added. ABP Beef also has another centralised meat packing plant in Doncaster.
“It will probably take two years to build [the Shrewsbury facility] and I would see us starting within eight weeks of getting planning permission,” he said.
The reason for the Ellesmere development – completed in 2015 – and that planned for the Shrewsbury site, was that UK investment by ABP in primary beef processing had been quite low over the past number of years and the facilities required modernising, remarked Kirwan.
‘Sweated the asset that was here’
“We had sweated the asset that was here [at Ellesmere] beyond its life and new technology that’s available and a new way of working in slaughtering is much more efficient than the old way of working, but it takes substantial capital investment to update it.”
The new Ellesmere facility includes a more modern infrastructure and animal welfare-friendlier lairage design, as well as new technologies for waste treatment and combined and heat power (CHP) techniques. It also features advanced handling and processing systems, including different combinations of gases for chilling carcases, and analytical assessments for ensuring improved meat consistency and quality.
“It is expensive, however," said Kirwan. “You can add value to things like the fifth quarter [offal, etc] as we have done here. We have taken the fat and used it to drive an engine [CHP]. We also handle the offal – a lot of which goes to France – and we add a lot more value to them here than at any other site. But, it is a massive commitment.”
See the March and April issues of Food Manufacture magazine for more on ABP and its new Ellesmere site.