£200k Grimsby investment at forefront of food fraud fightback

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 19 Jul 2017

A £200,000 investment has increased testing capacity and capability at a vital Grimsby food facility, a year after it was bought out by the European market leader.

The Technical Centre is now part of Eurofins, having been sold by Exova in June 2016. It has served the fish processing industry and wider “Food Town” needs for more than a quarter of a century, having previously operated as Allied Labs before the first buy-out in 2008.

Cleethorpes man Phil Coles is managing director of the UK and Ireland Food and Water Testing business, having worked with the company through the last acquisition, joining the previous entity from the food industry. 

He believes the purchase has put the business on a very positive footing.

The former Lindsey schoolboy, who read food science at Reading after taking physics, biology and chemistry at A-level, went away to work, returning with the business on visits from his Wolverhampton base. He said: “It has been great, being bought by the market leader for food, water and chemical testing globally, and it brings a whole new angle to the business in terms of investment. It has a much more longer term view.”

MORE: Fish and chips for tea! North Sea cod is back on the nation's menu

Chief executive Gilles Martin founded the business in Nantes, France,  in 1987, and he remains the principal shareholder.

It was established after he purchased the rights to SNIF-NMR technology, developed by his professor parents at the city’s university. It is that testing, reversed, that forms the basis to the name, and not a seafood connection as is often mistakenly assumed. 

“He is a lab person, and having someone who really understands and is the chief executive, is a real positive,” said Mr Coles.

Turning his attention to the Wickham Road plant, Mr Coles said: “We employ more than 100 people here, and the business is growing consistently, 10 per cent a year, profitably.

“One of the limits to growth is attracting good people to the business, talented people who want to come in. The search is also on for the next person to take it to the next stage of growth and development.”

TOP TEAM: Phil Coles, managing director, front left, with Harry Hellam, general manager, right.  Rear from left are, Jo Howard, Simon Welburn, Chris Hudson, Peter Brassington, Carol Fawcett, and Maureen Hallett.

General manager Peter Brassington has retired, having overseen the last major investment there to double capacity in 2011, and Harry Hellam, who was brought in on a temporary role, is about to do the same.

With first steps being taken in New Zealand and Australia, as well as the established European network, Mr Coles said the potential was amazing, and by no means only open to scientists. “For people just growing up, just starting their careers, the opportunities we have got are huge,” he said.

Having turned over one million Euros in 1997, the last year was 2.9 billion Euros, with a target of 4 billion Euros by 2020.

“If it doesn’t fit the field of public health and safety, that’s his primary filter. Theatre is a very bold message here to improve and protect public health.

As will as chemistry and microbiological testing, there are also vast logistics, analysis and increasing IT roles.
The £200,000 has allowed investment in the fabric and infrastructure, as well as a couple of “new toy”. “We are forever innovating and the reality is we are now testing for authenticity of food, and food fraud. As industry has developed new technology has come along too”, Mr Coles added, underlining how the likes of Horsegate are not particularly a modern phenomena.

“Substitution is not a new thing, with arsenic once used as green colouring,” Mr Coles said. “A lot of what we are seeing is just a modern day version of that.” 

Focusing on what the town does best, he said: “We are in a global supply chain here, we are shipping and flying in fish species from around the world, every day, and it might not be haddock and cod. If people are charging a premium it is important the consumer and the client knows about it.”

Increasing demands and quicker testing, from five day turnaround to 24 hours, has been a developing trend, with the vast majority of the work centred on what can be printed on the packaging in terms of nutritional content, shelf life and other claims the consumer will rely on. There are also water-testing facilities for all elements of the food chain production.

The Grimsby site operates ten collection routes, taking in Scotland and East Anglia, as one of several strategically located centres. Such is the food cluster, there are two local collections and a drop-off service too, as new products are brought to market.

“It is not just about good safety, but food quality too,” he continued. “ So much work goes into getting something onto the shelves, then on to the plate before it is consumed. It is not just finished product either, it can be raw material too.”

Within the Grimsby site, 60,000 plates a week of culture media are also produced to facilitate the testing, be it jellies, broths or yeasts. These are then distributed across the Eurofins network and to third parties.

No conversation stopper when aiding shopper

JOANNE Howard, head of chemistry, joined the team at 19, having just completed her A-levels.

“I started as a lab assistant on a YTS scheme, and worked in both microbiology and chemistry,” she said. “When I started there were ten people, now there are over 100.”

Backed by the business, she enrolled on a part-time degree, completing it over five years and gaining a First Class Honours in food science.

“That enabled me to progress and become lab manager. Since then I have worked in logistics, sample reception and then, when bought out in 2008 by Exova, I became head of chemistry.

“The job is varied, you don’t know what sample is coming in,  from seafood to a packet of crisps. It is very rewarding knowing the importance of what we do, and we are learning all the time, and looking to validate new methods. It is also a challenging and pressurised environment, constantly getting called for results. We deal with suppliers, manufacturers, right through to retailers.

There is definitely an awareness now, it used to be a conversation stopper if I was asked what I did, and Grimsby is a great place to do it. The fishing industry isn’t what it was, but we still have a huge manufacturing base. We are doing fish speciation on a daily basis.”

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