Belgian frozen produce specialist Ardo UK has opened a new £15m facility that it claims will eventually double its production output.

The new factory in Kent will process and pack a wide range of imported products, including peas, broccoli, raspberries, tropical fruit and many other lines. It has been equipped with a new packaging system to allow Ardo to pack in pillow bags, stand-up bags and punnets, and it can also pack mixes, corn cobs, rice and pasta as well as core fruit and veg lines.

The 'enclosed' system is designed to keep handling to a minimum and ensure neither products nor staff have to leave the facility, according to the company.

A new cold store will add an extra 5,000 pallet spaces, increasing capacity to 20,000 pallets and giving Ardo the potential to offer storage space to external customers.

The company is consolidating its two other sites into the new facility. "The move from working on two sites 10-and-a-half miles apart will deliver great benefits, saving time and energy," said managing director Stephen Waugh. "The new facilities allow us to further capitalise on the upsurge in demand for frozen fruit, vegetables, rice and pasta in the UK."

Although Ardo had not yet put new contracts in place, it had plans to run the facility at full capacity double its previous packing capabilities in the next decade, Waugh added.

"This is very much a long-term business, and it's all about the next five to 15 years," he said. "Frozen has always had a cheap and cheerful image, but now we are seeing some rejuvenation of the frozen fruit and veg market. People see an enormous difference in price, as well as nutritional benefits."

Some 40% of Ardo UK's products are sold into retail to Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose, with the remainder of its business split between wholesalers and industrial customers.

"These new facilities have given us the foundation to really increase our presence in the UK market," said operations director Jim Everest.