5 April 2002

Brewing initiative provides a sample of what lies ahead

A MOVE to supply malting barley to leading Continental brewer Grolsch is the latest example of what the chairman of an East Anglian grain co-op believes is a growing trend.

Food supply chain initiatives for otherwise commodity products are bound to become more widespread as customers demand to know their origins, says Camgrain chairman John Latham.

"Branding of cereals – as in the recent Fengrain/Safeway initiative to market bread produced from local grain – is likely to become increasingly important. Growers are increasingly aware that they need to get closer to their markets and be part of the supply chain.

"Branding not only helps secure a market, it also raises the profile of home-grown produce and often results in a better price."

Camgrain Stores has only been accepting malting barley since 1995, but now takes in over 20,000t, all marketed through Gowlett Grain.

Last seasons first-time venture was obtained under competitive tendering, says Mr Latham. "Its what the consumer wants. Grolsch and leading UK maltster Pauls Malt invited tenders from various companies and we were successful."

Involving 1500t of Optic from two growers, the contract is expected to expand considerably this year with the output from up to 40 growers.

Producers can expect a small premium, say £1-2/t, which helps offset the extra attention required to exceed ACCS requirements.

"Clearly they have to keep the parcels separate at harvest," says Mr Latham. However, another key requirement is that their records can be easily downloaded onto computer in a uniform format so the brewer can access all steps in the production chain, says Gowlett Grains Gordon Gowlett.

Taking part in such a tightly and regularly audited initiative is simplified for central store members, believes Camgrain store manager Philip Darke.

"The standards are very high, but we regard the grain as simply another grade of crop to be stored and monitored separately. I have 60 silos available so keeping it separate is easy."

The malting crop must be dried to the maltsters specification and ventilated carefully. But the key requirement is the ability to draw monthly samples to check germination levels and determine dormancy recovery times.

It is here the co-ops on-site modern laboratory, effectively duplicating what would otherwise be done at the maltsters premises, comes into its own, with the grain being sold vendor-assured.

Suffolks Robert Rush, one of last years producers and a Camgrain director, welcomes the food chain initiative. He grows about 200ha (500 acres) of spring barley on land near his base at Hall Farm, Shimpling.

"Its the feel-good factor that I like about the exercise. Its nice knowing we are producing something thats really wanted, and we have had no problem with the extra records required."

Access to Camgrains drying facilities removes much of the risk that might otherwise be involved in achieving the correct quality grain, he says.

Mr Gowlett adds: "We hope that the knowledge gained by measuring and assessing every step of the integrated chain will produce a win-win-win position." &#42