Due to open in spring 2012, the new facility (due to be built on the site of NBPOL's existing Liverpool refinery) will produce sustainable palm oil (SPO) and its fractions for margarines and bakery fats – for use in pastries and cakes – puff and shortcrust pastry, shortening and bread fats.
NBPOL director Andy Worrall told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the success of the firm’s Liverpool £18m refinery since it first came online in May 2010 meant NBPOL were able to build the new facility sooner than expected:
“We often read that palm oil is only used as a cheap alternative, and in the mid-late 1980s there was perhaps an affordability issue [partly validating this claim] here in the UK and Europe,” he said.
“But food firms have recognised its functionality now, and if animal and hydrogenated fats are stripped out then tropical oils are the only alternative in products such as biscuits, pie crusts and cakes, given that butter is so expensive.”
NBPOL has struck an agreement to supply bakery products to supplier Bako, and palm oil will also be boxed for the food service sector (restaurants and fish and chip shops) as well as for smaller food manufacturers who do not buy in bulk.
Doubling staff numbers
Worrall said NBPOL initially expects to double existing staff numbers (26) initially at Liverpool, and potentially create more new roles depending on how soon the site gets up to full capacity.
Asked if the Liverpool refinery – which can process up to 150,000 tonnes of palm a year – had been built to enable NBPOL to work more closely with customers to develop bespoke products, Worrall said:
“The move wasn’t so much product led, it was more of a bid to get sustainable palm products to market as soon as possible. We are one of the biggest producers of SPO products in the world, but there are concerns about affordability.
“Mass uptake will only happen once provenance, quality standards and, crucially prices are right. What’s been hard to get up until now is fractions from certified sustainable sources without huge premiums. We’re making these available to the bakery sector and we think there is strong growing interest.”
Bakery sector main market
With the bakery sector NBPOL’s principal market (accounting for 40% of all UK palm oil demand) the firm inked a deal with United Biscuits in 2009 to supply all its sustainable palm oil; Worrall said other deals had been done with food manufacturers but was unable to disclose names.
He said the food service sector also presented an opportunity if NBPOL could compete on price; however, “there’s not the same pressure in regard to sustainable sourcing, while it’s quite a fragmented market, although there is growing interest”.
Headquartered in Papua New Guinea (PNG) NBPOL has over 75,000 hectares of planted palm oil plantations (with a further 5,000 under preparation) and owns 11 oil mills and two refineries in Liverpool and PNG.