Zeneca to double output of tasteless meat substitute

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AN ENTHUSIASTIC response to test marketing of Quorn, the meat substitute, among healthy-eating Europeans has prompted Zeneca, the drugs and agrochemicals arm of Imperial Chemical Industries, to invest pounds 26.5m to double its production in Teesside.

The group plans to build a second fermenting plant for Quorn at its plant in Belasis, Cleveland, which will increase its capacity to 14,000 tonnes - enough for about 28 million meals for a family of four - by 1995.

The expansion comes less than 18 months after it embarked on a pounds 37m programme to increase production at both Belasis and the neighbouring Stokesley plant, where Quorn is flavoured and cut into chunks.

The investment will also create 50 jobs in Teesside, increasing the numbers employed in Quorn production and manufacturing to 250.

The expansion will allow the group to expand into Europe, where market research has indicated an encouraging level of demand. It is already available in Britain, Ireland, Germany and Belgium - where an enthusiastic response to test marketing prompted the retailer Delhaize to make it available nationally within a month of its launch.

Sales in Germany and the Netherlands are to be expanded later this year, and Zeneca is also considering its launch into France and Italy.

Based on a distant relative of the mushroom, Quorn is a high-protein, low-fat food which, because it has no distinctive taste of its own, can be combined with a wide range of ingredients. It is already being used in ready-made meals by supermarket chains such as Sainsbury as well as being sold on its own.

Zeneca would not disclose Quorn's sales, but analysts believe they are running at less than pounds 40m and the high investment means it is unlikely to be making profits. It is, however, one of the products in Zeneca's portfolio that the group believes could be significant contributors to earnings in the future.