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Good product despite very tight budget…
A note about the Irish business in the May 2008 issue of Contact (No.41) led to a search for more information and recollections.The first mention of Newry came in the 1960 winter edition of Carrow Magazine under the heading “MPP joins Colmans - end of partnership with Chivers”. MPP (Mashed Potato Products) evolved during the 1939-45 war when shipping space was a vital factor. It was realised that dried pre-cooked products would be invaluable and the obvious choice of raw material was potato – a staple food containing 80% water. A process was developed by Chivers and a plant at Newry was comissioned by the Northern Ireland government. Production began in March 1945 with full production, all reserved for the War Office, under way by October. Requirements fell following armed forces’ demobilisation and in 1947 it was thought the Newry factory would become redundant. In fact within half an hour of posting a notice to this effect the Ministry of Food bought all available stocks, factory and trade as the Berlin airlift had started. (Here it becomes interesting to speculate if our late fellow pensioner David Collins, architect at Colmans, a former bomber pilot who flew a Dakota in the Berlin airlift, ever carried supplies of Pom!). Colmans, in its association with R.T. French in the US, had started manufacturing instant potato in 1948 at a plant in Rochester with component parts supplied from the UK; so when the time came to renew the original plant at Newry the main items required were obtained from the USA and the Irish factory resceived a transatlantic “parcel” measuring 52 feet long, six feet wide and five feet high weighing 41/2 tons. Ken Herbert, January 2010 Having this story who better to finish it, in his own words, than fellow pensioner John Yeaden who sent the following article, together with a lot of material on Newry for the Colman archives.
… then the potatoes had to come from Yorkshire
It was in September 1968, a month after joining Colman’s, that I completed my induction at Carrow and was judged by my superiors to have adequately learned the Company basics. So, full of youthful optimism, I sailed across the Irish sea to take up the position of Plant Chemist in the Newry factory. J & J Colman’s was a small but fairly chunk of the product being destined sprawling place sited next to the canal. for soldiers’ rations - in the early days It was known as the Chivers factory it was known as Pom and was produced (initially being a joint Chivers - Colman’s under contract for the War Office - the venture) before it became wholly owned predominantly Catholic employees by Colmans. seemed to accept the arrangement, I The weed-covered waterway was must admit that I have since wondered the home to shoals of fish, families of what extra additives might have been swans and various pieces of discarded “unofficially” included for the benefit of ironmongery – but boats were never the Nation’s fighting men! seen. Ivor Brunning, was factory general Potato powder was produced there manager throughout the time I was in by a 120 strong workforce for shipment Newry. Ivor was always meticulously to the mainland. Despite a sizeable impartial in his treatment of the employees and whilst he could never have been regarded as popular – his temper was leg-endary – he was respected by everyone. We lost count of the disruptive and costly evacuations due to hoax bomb warnings, but never once was the factory targeted. The bulk of the plant’s output was for the UK domestic market and, despite a very tight budget and ridiculously ancient machinery, the final product was surprisingly good. In addition to “spud powder”, potato flakes were manufactured for wholesale purchase by Northern Ireland bakers. During the early 1970’s potato supplies, sourced locally, became increasingly erratic in terms of price, volume and security of supply. We first diversified into canned potatoes, in order to smooth out the seasonality of the production process, and then into canned mushrooms. Later we produced Make a Meal sauces for Carrow and even ventured into small scale contract packing. However, it became clear that the operation had no future when, in order to maintain raw material supplies, potatoes had to be sourced from Yorkshire and shipped across the Irish Sea.
Search for “lifelines”
Ivor had pulled out all the stops to try to maintain a production operation of some sort and had lengthy sessions with the Northern Ireland government regarding grants and other possible “lifelines”. Given the massive unemployment problems in the Province our boss felt that employment protection was a key priority. In May 1974 it seemed his efforts had been successful when a Dublin based company said that they would take over the factory, retain the workforce and establish a Pet Food operation there. Government grants were forthcoming, plus financial assistance from Reckitt & Colman, aimed at bridging the time gap between the operation of the two businesses
A trade display of Newry products