21 January 2000

Pace of change speeds up in meat processing sector

By Simon Wragg

THE shake-up in the meat processing sector gained pace this week after a rescue deal was announced for a Midlands-based lamb plant, only for another to announce suspension of operations.

Cigmon Group – which has plants at Anglesey and St Asaph, Wales – stepped in with an unconfirmed bid of £1m to reopen ABPs Wellingborough plant which closed a week before. The 10,000-lambs-a-week abattoir restarted its kill lines with contract fieldsmen looking to secure many of the plants previous suppliers.

According to the new owners, Owen and Iona Owen, capacity will be geared to the export of whole carcasses until refurbishment of the boning hall is complete. It is expected to take over ABPs contract to supply up to 3000 lambs a week to the Macquet retail packing group in France.

But large numbers of processors supplying carcasses overseas is partly blamed on Midland Meat Packers decision to closed its Bromsgrove kill line this week. Able to process up to 4000 lambs a week, the site has suffered since losing its contract to handle cattle from the over 30-month scheme from Jan 1. "There is far too much over-capacity. We will concentrate on retail packing at Bromsgrove, that is where we see the future," says Richard Field, MMPs chief executive.

Such turbulence will continue as abattoirs face up to over-capacity, warns the British Meat Federation. "We have 450 abattoirs on the books, but some people are talking about the possibility of as few as 50 major abattoirs in future," says BMFs Peter Scott.

The long-awaited rise in cattle and sheep prices may be helping producers, but it is compounding processors ills, he adds. "Also, the retailers stung by the charges of rip-off Britain are looking to cut their supply base."

But competition between abattoir owners – with some ironically looking to expand their way out of the problem – will do little to rectify the situation and producers can expect major changes before long, warns Mr Scott. &#42