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Innovation Centre drives decade of growth at Willowbrook

20 May 2018

Ireland’s largest bagged salad producer and specialist in prepared vegetables, Willowbrook Foods, has marked the tenth anniversary of its Innovation Centre in County Down which it believes has been instrumental in helping the business grow by on average 18% year on year over the past decade.  

The centre, which is based at Willowbrook’s Killinchy headquarters, was designed in 2008 to provide a hub for new product development, led by consumer trends and advances in technology to allow the company to meet bespoke orders for its customer base across the retail and foodservice sectors.

John McCann, managing director of Willowbrook Foods said:  “The Willowbrook Innovation Centre has been instrumental in taking our business to new levels over the past decade, helping us sustain on average 18% annual growth during that time. We set about building a facility with modern kitchens, state-of-the-art tasting and packing areas, and, most importantly, a first-class team of staff specialising in all elements of product development.  

“A major investment for us at the time, the Centre has allowed us to perfect our offering to customers to reflect emerging food trends with the best ingredients, flavour, texture and shelf life. We have been able to enter into new markets such as healthcare and travel catering through our ability to develop bespoke product lines and pack formats through the Innovation Centre.”  

McCann believes the Centre has allowed Willowbrook to stay ahead of consumer trends, in particular the huge rise in demand for foods that are both convenient and health-oriented: “Consumer needs are ever-evolving and we have been able to stay one step ahead of the demand for healthy, convenient salad and vegetable products thanks to our Innovation team’s expertise.  

“To use one product example, we have developed and perfected a full range of mashed vegetable lines, including potato, carrot, swede, parsnip and sweet potato.  This range contains no additives. Equally we have been able to develop more niche health-focused lines including non-dairy, low-salt, mashed potato, for catering use within the healthcare sector.  “This innovative work continues through our development into the free-from and vegan markets,” said McCann. 

Willowbrook Foods opened a second production facility in Newtownards earlier in 2018, which has doubled its production capacity.

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