Visitors to Norfolk’s champion farm – on a visit organised by Aylsham Agricultural Show Association – were among the first to hear some welcome news.
While touring the 6,175-acre Heygate Farms’ enterprise at Snailspit Farm, Swaffham, the 100-strong party of members, farmers and competition entrants were briefed about developments in the potato sector.
William Gribbon, who won his second supreme title in the 36th annual Norfolk farms’ competition, also talked about the amazing success of the Norfolk Peer potato business since it started in 2011. At last week’s Royal Norfolk Show, they sold 1,000 packs, each weighing 750g and currently freshly-lift 1,500 tonnes for the restaurant trade and also for almost 100 Tesco stores.
Heygate Farms also grow a total of 193 acres of Rooster for international potato group Albert Bartlett. A major boost for the embattled potato industry will start on September 1 at the former Heinz factory at Westwick, near North Walsham.
There has been much speculation about the plans for the factory, which closed in April with the loss of about 200 jobs. Now, it emerges that market leaders Albert Bartlett – known for its best-selling Rooster potato brand – will switch to 100pc home sourcing at its new Norfolk factory.
The Scots-based company, which supplies 20pc of Britain’s total fresh potatoes or around 450,000 tonnes, will be producing frozen and chilled products to extend the Rooster brand. It has now pledged to replace imports from Belgium and northern Europe with locally-grown potatoes and is looking for growers in Norfolk and further afield.
Albert Bartlett, now run by Ronnie Bartlett, is notoriously publicity-shy, but the company is thought to have invested more than £2.5m in the former Heinz plant it bought in April.
The Norfolk factory at Westwick, near North Walsham, had processed about 100,000 tonnes of potatoes and produced 60,000 tonnes of Aunt Bessie potato products. It was shut in April with a loss of some 200 jobs.
Instead of producing the former Aunt Bessie’s “roastie” ranges, Albert Bartlett will be producing home-grown Rooster. And it is looking for more growers to add to its 96-strong core of producers.
Albert Bartlett, founded in 1948, is based in Airdrie, Scotland, and bought a packing operation at Boston, Lincolnshire, in 2006. It did make a range of chip and wedge products until 2009 for another competitor but then decided to concentrate on the fresh market sector.