On the road from Reepham to Cawston, just before Salle Bridge, is a discreet sign to Crush Foods. Here at Park Farm, in an anonymous green metal building, lives a small company with big ideas.
Crush Foods sends its cold-pressed rapeseed oil and other foodie treats across the country – and the world. “Quality British food is popular in China these days,” co-founder Stephen Newham revealed.
Besides Mr Newham, Crush Foods currently has four full-time employees – soon to be five – in production, and two in accounts. “Everyone knows how to do all the jobs,” he said, “so we’re not big on titles.” (His is “Boss”.)
The company started in 2010 supplying rapeseed oil for frying and recycling used oil to produce biodiesel. After feeling the pressure from cheaper soya oil, Crush Foods switched to the gourmet market.
“In the last five years there’s been a phenomenal growth in demand for quality food,” said Mr Newham, whose family comes from Wells-next-the-Sea. “People’s expectations are so much higher.”
Previously based at Breck Farm, Swannington, Crush Foods moved to the purpose-built Park Farm site 18 months ago. This was possible thanks to money from Salle Farms, which owns Park Farm, and Dewing Grain in Aylsham.
“Our investors have tight links to our supply chain and a fantastic understanding of our business,” Mr Newham said. “Poul Hovesen of Salle Farms is very forward-thinking and we have worked with him for several years.”
Crush Foods buys rapeseed grown at Salle, Holkham and Bintree. After tasting around 20 commercial varieties, the team chose the one they believe has the best flavour (“light and nutty”), using a single variety to ensure a consistent product.
Most farmers grow several kinds of oilseed rape, Mr Newham said, so even “single estate” oils from other producers can vary from year to year. The Crush Foods variety has a comparatively low yield, so growers are paid a premium.
At Park Farm, a day’s work turns around one tonne of rapeseed into 300 litres of oil. The process is simple: an electric screw press, several weeks of settling, three stages of filtration, and bottling. The waste is sold as a nutritious cattle feed.
Over the past couple of years cold-pressed rapeseed oil has caught the attention of chefs and lovers of local food, many of whom believe it is just as good as premium olive oil while being less dominant in flavour.
Compared with olive oil, rapeseed oil has less saturated fat and more omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and with a high “smoke point” it is ideal for frying.
Mr Newham praises the support the company has had from the East of England Co-op as part of its “Sourced Locally” range. Crush Foods has now expanded into flavoured oils and dressings, egg-free mayonnaise and granola. “This month we’ve moved to a gluten-free variety of oats for our granola,” he said. “The Dial House serves it for breakfast, and Diane’s Pantry stocks it too.”
The next new line – to be sold under a different label – is a range of table sauces. Developed in partnership with a local chef, the “red, brown and barbecue” sauces should be ready for the Reepham Food Festival on 27–28 May.
Further ahead, Salle Farms hopes to develop a “food hub” on the Park Farm site. There is plenty of room, Mr Newham said, and excellent services including high-speed internet access via WiSpire from Salle church.
To Crush Foods, being rural clearly does not mean letting the grass grow under your feet.