Phase one of the factory at Waterside Park, Barnsley UK, has just been completed - in fact the automated form-fill-seal lines and retail packing lines were installed just last month.
FoodProductionDaily.com was there to see round the facility.
"I can't think of a customer or government agency that has not been involved in this site at some point," said Fresh-Pak divisional director Simon Scrivens. "We're very proud of our factory as it is ahead of where everybody else is."
The capacity of the new facility, which took a year to design and build, is certainly staggering. Over 5 million eggs are processed there each week. So when we were given unlimited access to the plant, we jumped at the opportunity to see just how Fresh-Pak intends to stay ahead of the competition.
Even from the outside it is evident that health and safety is the overriding concern at Waterside Park. CCTV cameras are situated at every corner, and visitors are buzzed in. When repairs are carried out, everything must be logged and every nut and bolt has to be booked out.
"Health and safety is a large cost, but these measures are beneficial to both our products and our people," said Fresh-Pak operations director Terry Moy. "We're trying to push the boundaries ourselves. Yes, there is a lot of pressure from retailers, but we make this work for us. They often suggest technology that we could use, so it works both ways."
Before entering the plant, all jewellery is removed and hairnets, boots and overalls are worn. The first port of call is the dispatch area, where eggs are delivered and unloaded. Eggs come from all over the EU, but are primarily procured from Spain, Germany and Holland.
"Here they are put into storage, logged and recorded," said Moy. "This is the start of the traceability process."
Fresh-Pak looked to the pharma industry for inspiration here. "They are at the cutting edge, so we turned to them," said Moy. "A significant six-figure investment has been made, and we go way beyond what is required by law."
Quality checks are carried out, and each pallet of eggs traced. Customers are able to do a full trace on any pack, and Moy estimates that DEFRA carries out an inspection of the plant once every month. " Every week there is someone - a customer or a technician - inspecting the facility," he said.
Next comes the cooking process, which is carried out by four boiling machines. Instead of being loaded into the vat, eggs are individually lowered by suction. This gentle procedure is less harsh than older equipment.
As a result, spoilage is surprisingly low. Site manager Elliot Lankford estimates that waste levels are below two per cent, and points out that waste management was a crucial factor in the design of the new facility.
"The project team was together for a year," he said. " They took into account climate control levies, and worked with local environment bodies. We're also looking to recycle as much as possible."
After the eggs are cooked, they are cooled in a bath for 25 minutes. The cooling vat has been designed to carry the eggs slowly to the end of the machine, and the coldest eggs are automatically taken out first. The eggs are then shelled by gentle shaking, and a rolling machine carries the cooked, shelled egg through a final spray.
Before being chopped, the eggs are placed in batches, barcoded, and chilled for four hours. This is to ensure that the best eating texture is achieved.
"Throughout the process we are aware of the need to maintain a competitive edge," said Moy. "To this end, we're not just a volume producer. We'll try out different recipes, because one of these recipes could become a future 10 ton-a-day recipe. It's about being innovative."
The final chopped eggs are put into containers and go through a metal detection and an x-ray machine before being barcode checked and sent to the dispatch area. Here, everything is put on pallet, labelled, shrink-wrapped and distributed.
At present the Fresh-Pak factory processes a staggering 5 million eggs and 150 tonnes of egg mayonnaise each week, and there is scope for growth. The facility is situated on a 10-acre site just outside Barnsley and a further three phases of work are planned.
Phase two, which will involve a further 15,000 sq ft fit out, is planned to be operational by the end of this year. Production is forecast to grow to 7 million eggs and 250 tonnes of mayonnaise by the end of the year.
"The sandwich market is still growing at 10 per cent a year," points out Scrivens. "This is why this factory is here - our aim is to meet this demand. Egg mayonnaise remains the nation's favourite filling, and most egg mayonnaise in the UK comes from this factory."
Fundamentally, the factory has been designed to provide control of every aspect of production. In this respect, the Waterside Park plant can be seen as a direct response to retailer demands for increased efficiency and better value for money. Government and public concern about the safety of the food supply has also been a factor in the rigorous measures that have been installed.
Moy is happy about accommodating these pressures, and believes that the plant is a model of modern food production. "The changes in the food industry in last 10 years have by and large been welcome," he said. "Technical expertise is now at the forefront, and consumer awareness means we need to keep up with the latest trends. But as long as we're able to stay ahead, and meet these challenges, why we would we have anything to fear?"