8 June 2001

Wales-only meat venture sets investment deadline

By Robert Davies Wales correspondent

WELSH farmers have until mid-July to invest at least £500,000 in a new meat-processing venture in Cardiganshire.

The Welsh arm of Farmers Fresh, based at Kenilworth Abattoir, will use the money raised to develop the former Lampeter Meats plant over the next three years. The aim is to supply meat and oven-ready products to independent high street butchers and a range of specialist outlets.

Mike Gooding, group marketing director of holding company Farmers First, which also owns Farmers Ferry, said the new plant would not target the supermarket trade, where competition was fierce and margins narrow.

Instead, the Farmers Fresh Cymru facility would concentrate on providing specialist butchery services for small retailers, people selling at farmers markets, the fledgling Welsh Veal Company, organic producers and breed-based meat suppliers.

New techniques would be used to produce a different type of boxed lamb and, by 2003, the plant would produce ready meals for the retail and catering markets.

If at least 1000 farmers bought the minimum shareholding of £500, the plant could begin killing 250 cattle and 2500 sheep a week this year, he said. Only shareholders would be allowed to supply livestock directly and benefit from trading profits.

"This is an investment by Wales, in Wales for Wales," said Mr Gooding. "Only stock born and bred in Wales that meet our specifications will be accepted.

"We chose to come to west Wales because an existing facility with an export licence was available for less cost than starting on a greenfield site. There is skilled and committed labour in the area, and the stock we need. Our soundings also indicated that producers are prepared to take responsibility for developing their own future."

The Farmers First Group was in business to improve livestock producers returns, said Mr Gooding. He believed the success of Farmers Ferry and Farmers Fresh, which before foot-and-mouth were on target to achieve a combined turnover of almost £50m in the year ending May 31, should boost the confidence of potential investors.

Group chairman Terry Bayliss said: "We have a track record for getting things done and out of the nightmare of F&M, our future as producers lies in our own hands. For too long we have been the butt end of the food chain. If we are to have a future, we have to seek ways to build on the excellent quality of lamb and beef produced in Wales."

Branding would be very important, especially when exports resumed, he said, and the company planned to work closely with Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions, the Welsh Development Agencys food directorate, and its food technology and development centre.

The launch of the new investment campaign coincided with the first purchase of lambs by the farmer-owned Welsh Meat Company, which is also trying to raise extra cash from producers. Within weeks, the companys first joint venture, with butchers Oriel Jones and Son, will begin producing Welsh sausages and a range of what it calls "gate to plate" meals. &#42