In a summer that has seen a real shake-up among the leading players in the UK broiler industry, Sun Valley has big plans of its own, as well as a new name. Ken Randall catches up with Richard Maxfield.

Sun Valley is looking for growers. Despite all the pressures and difficulties in the industry, the company is bullish about the future and is poised to embark on the next phase of an expansion programme that has been progressing steadily since as far back as 1994.

Over the coming years, it hopes to raise output from the current 1.5m birds a week by up to another half a million. As a result it will be looking for greater growing capacity in both standard birds and alternative growing systems including RSPCA Freedom Food and free-range.

Alongside this, as of last month, the Sun Valley company name will be changed, as the company becomes Cargill Meats Europe. It marks a break with one of the last remaining reminders of the early broiler industry in the UK, when Colonel Corbett set up Sun Valley in the 1960s.

Sun Valley has been part of Cargill for many years but the time has come to reflect the rapid changes in the structure of the business, explains managing director Richard Maxfield.

“Sun Valley has been part of the Cargill family since 1980 and during this time we have grown significantly and prospered into one of the UK’s leading poultry businesses,” says Mr Maxfield.

“We now operate internationally, and this re-branding strategy brings all our European partners into one cohesive business group.”

Sun Valley’s own expansion trail goes back at least to 1994, when weekly production stood at 600,000 birds a week. A major refurbishment programme took this up to 850,000 a week and since then it has crept up at the Hereford site to 1.2m.

The acquisition of Freemans of Newent earlier this year added another 320,000 birds, and also crucially, the free-range business, which in the future will become an important part of the operation.

In fact the purchase of Freemans was an important piece in the strategic jigsaw.

It brought significant extra processing capacity in a location well-placed on the motorway network for serving a wider catchment area for growers.

“We’re really pleased with Freemans, and we’re looking to take it forward,” says Mr Maxfield.

“It was a quick way to expand our production base, and being only 25 miles away the synergy with the Hereford operation is very good. It has fantastic transport links and opens up the whole south-west to us for growers. And the free range expertise came with it.”

Armed with Freemans, the company is now actively recruiting more growers in a wider catchment area than ever before. It can easily step up output at Freemans by 300,000 birds by double-shifting, and could ultimately squeeze up to 200,000 more out of Hereford if necessary.

An important development over the last 18 months has been the establishment of the Freedom Foods part of the business in partnership with Morrison’s and now accounts for 10% of throughput, with plans to raise this to 20% over time.

Recruiting the extra growers will be the key challenge in today’s environment of rising costs and industry changes and as a result Sun Valley is now restructuring its start-up assistance package to try and tempt more growers to come on board.

Rebranding

The re-branding of Sun Valley began last month and will rollout across all areas of the business over the next two years. Although the company will now be known as Cargill Meats Europe, it says it will take some time to completely renew all aspects of the business. As such, the company will be working with its farms, factories and partners to develop the new look over the coming months.

Cargill Meats Europe will be a £300m company with Europe-wide production facilities, making it a leading supplier of food products to retail, foodservice and food manufacturing customers in both European and global markets.

The company has processing facilities based in Hereford and Wolverhampton employing in the region of 2000 people in the UK, as well as production plants in Ireland, France and Holland.

Cargill parent company started with WW Cargill’s first grain storage facility on the American frontier in 1865. The company has grown to become one of the largest privately-owned businesses, providing food, agricultural and risk management products and services around the globe. In total it has 158,000 employees in 66 countries.