The international ingredients company officially opened the Manchester plant yesterday, having invested £75m (€93.6m) in transforming it from a processor of imported maize to domestic wheat. The plant will process around 750,000 tonnes of wheat per year to provide a range of products including sweeteners for the confectionery sector and protein and texturisers for the baking industry. "The UK is a big exporter of wheat, sending it to Europe to be processed," Martin Douglas, general manager, told FoodNavigator.com. "Processing wheat in the UK benefits the supply, the farmer and the consumer as well as keeping the market competitive and encouraging sustainability." Environmental factors Douglas said that the UK and Ireland are better equipped for growing wheat because of the climate, and thus supporting environmental sustainability. He said the decision to change the plant from a corn processor to a wheat processor was a way of dealing with some of the problems caused by the increasing cost and dwindling supplies of grain. "No food enterprise is immune to price increases for commodities, and we think in the long term wheat will be competitive against other products," said Douglas. "Our new plant will help make wheat cheaper for use and keep the food industry competitive." Wheat prices have been growing steadily over the last year, in some cases running at up to five times the level seen in early 2007. Poor harvests and competition from biofuels and emerging markets have been blamed for the increases. Processing domestic wheat in the UK rather than exporting it effectively cuts costs, feeding the money back into the UK supply chain, explained Douglas. Frank van Lierde, who runs Cargill's European sweeteners business, said: "The strategy was designed to best address the growing needs of our customers both in the UK and Ireland and across Europe in providing them with the right choice of quality products at competitive prices to service their own local manufacturing needs. "The advantages of producing sweeteners from wheat, a reduced complexity of operation, efficiencies in milling and superior economies of scale allows Cargill to become the most competitive producers of sweeteners." Cargill in Europe The Manchester site is one of a network of plants that make up Cargill's starches and sweeteners operations in Europe, which are headquartered in Belgium. Together the plants supply a variety of products either directly, or sourced from other network plants. As well as converting its UK plant, Cargil has consolidated a number of its food ingredients businesses at the Manchester site, which it says is now the hub for its UK food ingredients business.