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Bell invests 750,000 pounds sterling in export-led expansion.

Bell Invests 750,000 [pounds] in Export-Led Expansion

Volume growth in Ken Bell International's seafood business, particularly in export markets, has led to a 50 percent expansion in the company's Longbenton, Newcastle factory. This has involved the investment of a further 750,000 pounds.

Line efficiency and speed, without reducing quality control, have been achieved by improved processing line techniques, and raw material storage capacity has also been increased. The overall size of the factory has been increased from 15,000 to 22,000sq ft.

Warm water prawns and king prawns are the products for which Ken Bell International is best known, the company having been built upon a 'niche marketing' move in the 1960s, to source quality seafoods from the Indian Ocean and other Eastern waters. Ken Bell was setting out to compete by entering the upper end of the market, and instead of spot buying on international markets, as many others did, he established strictly observed lines of control of the product from source, through shipping and processing.

When the company built its processing factory at Longbenton in 1982, the same principles of ensuring quality through control were applied, and the facilities were built from the outset with expansion and 'processing evolution' in mind.

"Food processing technology never stands still", says Ron McAlpine, the production director, "and too many factories have been built to do a 'state of the art' job, only to become obsolete in a few short years.

"We have always seen our processing facilities as a perpetually developing part of the business, and we know now that the near 6m. [pounds] that has been spent to-date is by no means a finished commitment."

The first and most fundamental requirement is space, and sufficient land was purchased for future expansion. That expansion has since more than doubled the size of the site.

The processing lines have always been custom-built (including a pioneering CFC-free freezing process), and have always worked in close and vital tandem with quality control and microbiological facilities.

"Guaranteed safety and quality have been at the root of everything we have done," says the chairman Ken Bell MBE. "Naturally, we begin with expert sourcing of raw materials but our reputation and success then rely upon our handling of the product.

"That is why we are committed to frozen products because freezing leaves nothing to chance, or to restricted control. If you freeze a good product, you defrost a good product."

The frozen processing chain at Longbenton follows a three-stage programme: test - cook - test before release for storage and distribution. Freezing the product allows plenty of time for a second test stage whereas chilled shelf-life makes time of the essence.

"The chilled chain becomes; test - cook - chill - release, adds Ron McAlpine. "The risk is obvious."

The main changes in processing procedures at Ken Bell International have been in terms of dynamics, using basically the same principles and cryogenics, but placing them more in line with achieving greater speeds and efficiencies with greater automated control.

Human handling of the product has been reduced over the years, and Mr McAlpine feels that this is one of the areas that might still be open to fundamental change in the future.

"Our operations are very nearly 'handsoff' now and our ultimate goal would probably be to break human contact with the product altogether, possibly with controlled atmosphere enclosed lines.

"This is the area where we are critically in control of quality and safety. We ensure that our products are clean, wholesome and safe, and then the best anybody can possibly do to maintain that is to keep the product deep frozen."

These principles are applied to the cooked and peeled and shell-on prawns and king prawns that have made the company's name, and they are now also applied to a growing range of value-added seafood lines based largely on those prawns.

A new seafood kebab, with king prawns, squid, peppers and mushrooms, won a British Frozen Food Federation Award in 1990, and, together with breaded butterfly prawns, battered king prawns, seafood cocktail, cajun and tandoori marinaded prawns and 'snap and peel' king prawn tails will be on show at the forthcoming Frozen Foods at IFE exhibition being held at Earls Court next April.
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Title Annotation:Ken Bell International
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Chilled and frozen food chain - storage and distribution.
Next Article:The Binsted's Directory of Food Trade Marks and Brand Names, Vol. 3.

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