A consortium of farmers have agreed a 10-year supply and investment agreement with Unilever, the owner of the Colman’s brand, which is establishing a new production plant at Honingham Thorpe near Norwich.
It follows fears that Colman’s 200-year links with Norwich – through mint and mustard – would be ended as a result of its decision to close its Carrow Road factory in the city.
Milling of mustard seed and mint processing will switch to the new mill, with final bottling to be done at Unilever’s Burton-on-Trent factory.
Just four farms on the outskirts of Norwich grow the entire supply of 800 tonnes of spearmint needed every year to make more than 6m jars of sauce.
David Bond, a member of the Norfolk Mint Growers’ group and the consortium, Condimentum, said: “It’s very positive that we have been able to collaborate to keep this vital local connection going. After harvesting, mint can go black unless it is processed quickly [by being steeped in vinegar] so a local facility is essential.”
In a parallel move Colman’s will this week pledge to bolster the quantity of UK-grown produce used in some of its other key condiments over the next three years, in a move which it says is to support UK farmers.
Colman’s wide range of condiments, which also include apple, cranberry, and horseradish sauces, can be found in the store cupboards of 54% of UK households. It sells about 31m jars every year, including 10m jars of the best-selling mustard and more than 6m of mint sauce.
However, Colman’s admits the rise of veganism and flexitarianism – where consumers are reducing meat consumption – has had an impact on sales.
“Sales of mint sauce are fairly stable although there’s been a slight dip recently due to the decline in popularity of the roast dinner, including lamb,” a spokeswoman for Colman’s said. “We know more people are embracing flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, but there’s no reason why plant-based meals shouldn’t have the same level of flavour as meat dishes.”
As well as mint, apple sauce is also made from 100% British crops, and new packaging on both now emphasises “Norfolk Grown” mint and “British Grown” apples. The company will this week commit to boosting the quantity of UK produce in other products such as tartare, horseradish and seafood sauces, including parsley and eggs. The one major exception – which may have Brexit implications – is cranberry sauce, where the fruit is imported from North America.