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Farmers hit as Birds Eye, Lowestoft loses peas contract
Birds Eye, Lowestoft
Birds Eye will continue to pack other products in Suffolk

Suffolk and Norfolk's pea farmers are reacting with dismay at the loss of a Birds Eye contract.

The frozen food giant has had an Italian export deal cancelled, affecting its Lowestoft factory and another firm in the supply chain.

They've told 183 farmers in the Waveney area that they won't need their peas.

"It's a real blow and nobody saw it coming," said farmer John Collen of Gisleham. "In terms of the economy in Lowestoft there will be a big effect."

Anglian Pea Growers Ltd is the firm that the farmers sell their produce through and it's estimated the decision by Birds Eye could cost them around £5.5m.

John Collen produces around 300 tonnes of peas a year. He's also the chairman of the National Farmers Union in Suffolk.

Birds Eye frozen peas
20% of Birds Eye peas come from the Anglian Pea Growers group

"I have 100 acres of land bare and ready to drill," said Mr Collen on BBC Suffolk's breakfast show. "The drilling season was due to start in two weeks.

"We act collectively and we're talking about 10,000 acres that now has to find an alternative crop and, frankly, there isn't a financially viable alternative.

"For this season, we're going to have to drill a crop which we know isn't going to make us any money.

"There are plenty of options - spring greens, spring barley, spring oil-seed rape - but their yield is much lower, therefore the cost of production is higher which we'll never see back.

"There's probably 100 more jobs just involved in harvesting the peas."

Norbert Dentressangle at Oulton Broad
Norbert Dentressangle freezes peas at its Oulton Broad plant

Birds Eye view

Birds Eye's UK pea operation is divided between its sites in Lowestoft and Hull. The Waveney harvest is frozen by Norbert Dentressangle at Oulton Broad and then Birds Eye does the washing and packing in Lowestoft.

Anne Murphy, managing director of Birds Eye, said they lost the Italian contract in December 2009:

"We have very much have been dealing with a circumstance that to some degree has been out of our hands.

"What we have taken time to do is understand what options we had and if there was any viable alternative and we've worked as fast as we can to do that.

"We will be in dialogue [with the farmers] over the coming weeks about what the appropriate next steps are.

"We will continue to source British peas and deliver a great product for the consumer."

Birds Eye say 20% of all its peas come from Anglian Pea Growers Ltd., but they'll still be working with 230 pea farmers in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Dundee.

The Lowestoft plant, which has 700 workers, will continue to produce other frozen vegetables, burgers, poultry, waffles and coated fish.

John Collen said consumers are simply looking at price rather than quality:

"Birds Eye have always produced a premium product. We were growing some of the best peas in the world.

"Because of the downturn in the economy, I suspect people are buying cheaper peas which has led to the cancellation of the contract."

The decision is also expected to have a knock-on effect for hauliers - peas provided a six to eight week harvesting period when lorries were working full time.

Birds Eye cancels 180 pea deals
04 Feb 10 |  Business


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