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After doldrums during first half of year, Ken Bell charts shrimp market turnaround.

After Doldrums During First Half of Year, Ken Bell Charts Shrimp Market Turnaround

One thing about Ken Bell, proprietor of Newcastle, England-based Ken Bell International, is that he always talks straight. "We've seen one of the worst six months ever, both in terms of general trade and export," he told Quick Frozen Foods International about business levels experienced during the first half of this year. "But we're through it now, and are actually up in tonnage over 1990 even though margins are not as good as they might be."

Europe's largest independent processor of prawns expects to do over 30 million [pounds] in turnover again this year, of which 70% will represent exports. But it won't have been easy. Not only did the recession and the Gulf War ("February never happened") torpedo sales, but cutthroat competition on the Continent added insult to injury.

"There are a lot of cowboys over there selling low quality product. A flood of it sullied the market early this year. We refuse to stoop to that level to get business," said Bell, "because at the end of the day such activity only kills the market for everybody."

Bell, whose modern factory operation produces from 120 tons to 200 tons of finished product per week, has been in the forefront of those shouting for quality standards and legislation that will curb unscrupulous traders. He strongly favors EEC controls: "I'd rather have Brussels regulate it than London."

The outspoken shrimp packer has long been at odds with the political powers that be in Britain, particularly over issues such as food irradiation and BSE (mad cow disease). His ongoing anti-irradiation battle with the government has included personally financing research aimed at finding a fool-proof way of detecting whether the controversial preservation process has been used on foods.

"The menace of irradiation must be exposed," said Bell. "It's nothing more than camouflage for bad practice and the dirty products which result from it."

More recently the prawn processor, who also sells about 1 million [pounds] worth of meat per year, invested some 20,000 [pounds] to come up with a test for BSE in live cattle. Getting no cooperation from officialdom, he sent a research scientist to the USA to work with the National Institute of Health. As a result a patent has been applied for regarding a process which involves placing a DNA strain into a small blood sample. If it replicates itself, the disease is deemed endemic.

"Rightly or wrongly, the UK consumer associates BSE with the risk of contracting senile dementia. That's why they don't want to eat domestic beef," explained Bell. "I have no choice but to sell imported beef from Botswana at the moment."

Meanwhile, on the prawn side of business, most of Bell's raw materials come from India, Bangladesh and Asian Pacific Rim countries. In a move to tighten quality control he has reduced the number of suppliers considerably, sourcing only from select provisioners.

But the Ken Bell International product line has not been cut back. As a matter of fact, a new range of "Flavor Seal" packs was recently introduced. Varieties include: King Prawn and Garlic Butter, Luxury Seafood Cocktail, and Seafood Kebab with Oriental Sauce.

PHOTO : "There are a lot of cowboys out there selling low quality products," says Ken Bell. "We refuse to stoop to that level to get business."
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Title Annotation:Ken Bell International's recovery
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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