Direct Table Foods state-of-the-art factory took six monthsto build and cost the company £20m (€29m). It was built to replace one that burnt down in the area almost two years ago. Direct Table Foods managing director Tony Stanton claimedthat since the company was able to start from scratch, it was able to designone of the most sophisticated bacon-processing plants in Europe. "We've been able to start with a blank sheet of paper anddevelop the design to meet the business's exact needs," said managingdirector Tony Stanton. "Very few food factories are purpose-built and, as aresult, the processes within them are not always as straightforward as theymight be." The factory has been built to replace Direct Table'sprevious site, which was destroyed by a fire in November 2004. In the interim, the company maintained itsoutput by doubling production at its second site in Cuffley, Hertfordshire. Julia Johnson, a spokesperson for Direct Table, toldFoodProductionDaily.com that the company held an estimated 15 per cent share ofthe UK bacon market before the fire. It is estimated to have lost up to 30 percent of its business due to the fire. "The company is clearly aiming to increase this now thenew factory is up and running," she said. Direct Table Foods, a subsidiary of Tican UK Holding, countsitself among the four largest bacon processors in the UK. The company sells its products to the private brand marketin the UK, and under its own brands such as Suffolk Crown, Lark Valley andDirect. It counts Sainsbury's as among its key customers. The new factory currently employs about 100 workers and hasa production capacity of about 300 tonnes a week. Another 100 workers areexpected to be hired over the next year as sales picks up. Direct Table contracted out the construction to EastMidlands-based food sector development specialists, Clegg Food Projects. The new factory was built on a new site, located next to themajor A14 dual carriageway for better logistics - but still within Bury StEdmunds. Johnson says the factory is designed to help Direct Tabletarget the premium market for bacon as customers are moving more upmarket. TheUK demand for bacon is currently static. Processors generally use two methods to cure bacon. Thequicker method involves sealing the curing agent and the bacon in a specialbag. The longer more traditional way, involves leaving the bacon in a curingtank for up to four days. The method, in use at the new Direct Table factory, resultsin a better tasting more premium product, Johnson said. The new factory will produce rashers, gammon steaks andjoints, said Stanton. It uses four different types of processing lines -covering retail and bulk packed products. The company has also installed a dedicated line forcustomers to trial specialised products and to produce short runs. Curing There is a logical flow throughout the factory, Stanton saidin describing the process. Pork is delivered at one end into a storage area and thengoes into the adjacent curing hall. Here, Direct Table has designed a tank curing facility wherepork is cured in the traditional way. "We mix our own cures, using natural ingredients, forexample honey, wherever possible and then carry out the initial cure using aprecise multi-needle injecting system," Stanton stated. "The meat isthen tank cured - a traditional method that we are able to offer usingstate-of-the-art equipment." Depending on the specific cure used, this stage of the processtakes between three and five days. After leaving the curing hall, bacon to be smoked goes intosmokers for up to three hours. The company has installed friction smoke generators thatsmoke at a cooler temperature and offer a higher degree of control over thelevel of smoke that products receive. The bacon is then tempered before being sliced into rashers,according to customers' specifications, he stated. From here, the bacon istaken into the refrigerated warehouse prior to delivery on to customers. A quality control room is used to test bacon packs from theproduction line every 30 minutes for gas content, weight and labelling. The factory has capacity for 300 tonnes per week and wasdesigned to allow for growth. "For example, the refrigerated warehouse is designed tobe easily enlarged, by moving an internal wall, as additional capacity isrequired," Stanton stated. The Direct Table factory includes a test kitchen, where thebacon is regularly tasted and new cures and smokes are developed. The company is a subsidiary of Danish co-operative, Tican. Stanton said the collaboration between farmers andabattoirs ensures a supply of high quality pigmeat, reared to British marketrequirements and with full traceability.