Frozen food retailer Cook has moved to a new £2.5m factory in Kent as part of plans to grow the scale of its business.
The 30,000 sq ft Sittingbourne facility, dubbed a "kitchen" by the company because all its dishes are hand-prepared, can produce 500,000 meals a week - a fivefold increase on the capacity of its previous site half a mile away. That has now closed.
Cook, which has a chain of 21 stores in the south east of England, has plans to open eight new outlets in 2008. It also wants to expand sales through its home delivery website and increase distribution through third-party retailers, such as independent c-stores and farm shops. "This is a dream come true," said Cook co-founder and chef director Dale Penfold. "I never believed we would be cooking in such an incredible kitchen when we started in our little shoe box kitchen in 1997."
The excitement surrounding the opening of the factory was tempered somewhat by an announcement by Cook that it had been forced to increase the price of its meals in-store because of rising ingredient costs.
The price of wheat, dairy, chicken and pork had gone up the most, it said.
MD James Perry warned there would be more rises to come. "We anticipate that the increases for this autumn are not the last," he said. "They aggregate to no more than 0.7% on weighted sales values, but we are already considering further increases for Christmas and beyond as we see the market continuing to move."
The quality of supermarket ready meals could be compromised by rising commodity prices because major retailers would try to resist any increases, he claimed.
That could drive more discerning shoppers away from supermarkets and into stores such as Cook. "The more that the big retailers resist their suppliers' efforts to increase prices, the better for us competitively, as it will further force quality out of the sector and increase the gap between Cook and the rest," he said.