Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was due to open the new forming factory in Billingham, Teesside, but he pulled out of the event this morning citing ‘family reasons’.
It came amid chaos in Westminster when two senior ministers - Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - and two resigned following the agreement of a Brexit deal during a marathon cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Quorn Foods chief executive Kevin Brennan stepped in to open the new building in his absence.
Quorn’s Billingham site produces the core protein that is the main ingredients for its products.
The new £27m building will be able to form that protein into mince burgers and other products on the same site.
The company made the investment after its other forming factory at is headquarters in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, reached capacity.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Brennan said: “It’s not about shifting production, it’s about adding capacity.”
The new factory will add approximately 20,000 tonnes per annum to production and produce 1.33m packs of Quorn products per week, equivalent to the meat of 1,600 cows.
The investment is part of a £150m commitment by Quorn Foods. It also builds on the company’s strongest ever year of growth, a £7m investment in a global innovation centre in Stokesley, and sees the company stay on track to become a $1bn business by 2027.
The growing demand for meat-free alternatives and the popularity of vegan diets is fuelling Quorn’s meteoric rise around the world.
Mr Brennan said the uncertainty surrounding Brexit was unsettling for businesses but Quorn was stockpiling the ingredients it buys from Europe to make sure it had ‘healthy stocks’ before Britain leaves the EU.
He added that the UK was a ‘very important market’ for the firm and but the US is its biggest focus for growth. It is not reliant on sales in Europe.
“We are growing at 15 per cent each year and we plan to grow at that rate each year,” Mr Brennan said.
“It’s full steam ahead with investment.”
The business is also investing in a fermentation facility in Billingham for researching and developing new types of Quorn.
“This is the first time we will have had a pilot facility to test and improve ways of manufacturing the protein,” Mr Brennan said.
Innovation is a key area for the company.
“We have got an exciting pipeline of products to grow in the UK,” he added.
The company has already joined forces with pizza maker Dr Oetker to produce a number of new toppings.
There are also new products in the pipeline in the grocery and on-the-go food categories alongside a big focus on vegan products and fish substitutes.
While a lot of the new investment is in Billingham, Mr Brennan said Stokesley remained an important part of the business.
“Over the next 10 years, the Billingham site will have a greater scale of manufacturing,” he said.
“But from an employment point of view, Stokesley has more staff - 350 people compared to 70 at Billingham.
“We have created 100 new jobs at Stokesley over the last year and expect to create a further 50 over the next year.”
Looking to the year ahead, Mr Brennan said Quorn’s continued expansion and innovation would make 2019 ‘one of the most exciting years Quorn has ever had’.