Cranswick’s £40m acquisition of chicken processor Crown this week will further bolster its push into the poultry sector and potentially open up new opportunities in the big four, CEO Adam Couch has said.

Crown “squared the circle on that side of our business” after Cranswick bought poultry processor Benson Park in October 2014, Couch said. “We’ve been interested in this sector for a while, and the acquisition certainly assists us in the supply chain for Benson Park, which currently buys in all of its meat.”

Crown, which is the UK’s sixth-largest poultry processor [Shore Capital] and slaughters half a million birds a week, is particularly strong in foodservice and smaller retailers, with 25% of its business in cut and processed chicken and the rest in whole birds.

Cranswick would be looking to build on that and increase capacity by investing in Crown’s processing site in Norfolk, Couch said. In due course, this could then open up opportunities for supplying poultry into the major supermarkets, he suggested.

“There’s a lot of potential in poultry; it’s a versatile protein like pigmeat, and many of our customers would like to see what we can do for them on the poultry side,” Couch said.

“Over a period of time we’d like to think there would be an opportunity to supply products into the big four that would be of interest to them, but we wouldn’t be looking to do it on a ‘me too’ approach,” he added.

“It would have to be something of a differentiated nature. But it’s clear there is huge scope for growth in this category.”

Crown currently employs some 400 staff at 45 sites across East Anglia. In addition to its processing operations, it also owns a hatchery, breeding and rearing units, and a milling operation to help meet its feed requirements.