Company director Francois Demauge
Inside Crown Pet Foods factory
By Sitala Peek
Crown Pet Foods invited me on a tour of the Castle Cary factory to see the production methods- after neighbours complained of 'unbearable' smells invading their homes and making them feel sick.
The smell is so bad, according to some residents, they have resorted to taping up their windows and doors. The company says it has taken measures to deal with the problem.
Standing at the site entrance on a fairly breezy day I couldn’t smell anything in any direction, except maybe faint diesel fumes from the tractors trundling along the country lanes.
The company employed 50 staff when it relocated from its offices in Yeovil last year.
Crown Pet Foods supply approx 500,000 homes
It built a combined office and factory on a light industrial estate in Castle Cary, which vaguely resembles a futuristic apartment block.
It now has 167 employees of whom 70 live locally.
At the planning stage residents were worried the factory would be an eyesore, but I’m sure they never imagined it would make them feel physically sick.
Stepping through the glass doors into a high ceiling, air conditioned, marble lobby felt like walking into a smart airport business lounge.
It was so quiet I could hear my heels clicking on the floor. Yet just a few metres down the corridor, behind closed doors, the noise of whirring machinery was deafening.
The reception smelt mildly of the cleaning products they used on their polished floors, but there was no trace of cat or dog food in the air.
'Crunchy, salty, but otherwise bland'
Eric Le Fauvre, the factory manager took me on a tour starting with the packing lines and warehouse.
Whilst it was noisy it conspicuously didn’t smell.
A pinch of clay makes them easier to digest!
Only two of the six packing lines were operating. A few months ago the company decided to scale back their production until they could resolve the odour problems.
The company received around 50 odour complaints and the Environment Agency was asked to investigate.
Crown Pet Foods managing director Francois Demauge says he is working with the Environment Agency and is taking measures to reduce the smells.
At full capacity the factory can produce up to 30,000 tonnes of dried pet food a year, which is still not enough to supply the domestic market. The company supplies an estimated 500,000 households in England.
The warehouse holds two days worth of production, but that day it was empty save for a few 20kg sacks of dog biscuits.
Round the corner was where they stored the powdered raw ingredients, meat, vegetable and cereal stacked high on shelves.
The air was a lot warmer in that part of the building and the smell hit me like a wave. It made me want to bring up my lunch and I’m not even vegetarian.
The ingredients were checked for quality control by three technicians in a sound proof laboratory, the size of a large domestic kitchen.
They were weighed and checked for water content and purity in ovens and test tubes.
Rob Angell from the SOS campaign against the smell
Leading on from the raw ingredients storage area, is where they ‘cooked’ the biscuits.
The cooking process
I say ‘cooked’ because it basically seemed to involve compressing the ingredients and rolling them around an oversized tumble dryer to shake the water off them.
They were fed through a series of machines, but I was banned from taking pictures because the design is carefully guarded to prevent competitors copying them.
The biscuits were then coated in flavoured fats and sent down a chute into paper bags on the packing line.
The cooking area was sealed off behind a thick sheet of glass and consequently didn’t smell from where I was standing.
Off to the side was another quality control station, where men monitored the biscuits' progress on computer screens.
Finally there was an office area connected to the control room, which was also sound proofed and smell free.
The only area that smelt at all was the raw ingredient storage space, but it gave me an idea of how nauseating the steam must be floating over people’s homes.
Bizarrely, by the time the ingredients were made into biscuits they didn't smell or taste of anything much. They are the consistency of a dried crunchy cereal and taste slightly salty but are otherwise quite bland.
The smell seaps into Rob's study
After the tour I interviewed Francois, who said: "We are trying to communicate openly with all interested parties that is why we are speaking to the press and inviting people on this tour.
"We have been shocked and very surprised to have so many complaints about the technology in the factory.
"We didn’t have any issues prior to this factory and we have been working from day one to see what could be done to remain the good neighbours we want to be."
The company is installing a condenser and a carbon filter to help reduce the smells and it should be effective from July.
Rob Angell is the spokeman for SOS- a group of Castle Cary residents who are campaigning against the smells.
He said he was encouraged by the steps the company was taking but also concerned about the lack of contingency plan, in case the £1 million odour treatment installations don't work.
Francois said: "That won't happen. I would be very surprised. Of course we will keep checking and checking after, but it will be as different as night and day. I'm sure of it."
last updated: 01/06/2009 at 13:49