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Federico Ercoli of The Manufacturer Magazine talks to Dr Nigel Davies, Manufacturing and Sustainability Director, Muntons
As a whisky lover, I planned a trip to Islay many, many years ago. Eight local and historical distilleries make the Scottish island the perfect mecca for peat aficionados that wish to embark on the humblest whiskymage.
The intense, earthy aroma of malt and barley is a smell I am well accustomed to, and during my recent trip to Muntons’ headquarters in Stowmarket in Suffolk, I was reminded of that familiar scent.
Much like the many distilleries on Islay, Muntons has a history of tradition. “Muntons is 90 years old,” Dr. Nigel Davies, manufacturing and sustainability director, tells me. “We have been established here on this site since 1948. We’re about the 20th largest maltings in the world, but we are one of the biggest producers of malting ingredients, like malt extract, flour, flakes and a range of other products that add colour, flavour or texture to baked goods.”
With a combined UK production of 175,000 tonnes of malt and more than 40,000 tonnes of malted ingredients produced in the Stowmarket site alone for the food and beverage industries, it only seems natural to assume not all of it is for British consumption. So where do malt and its extracts travel to?
“Big markets for us are obviously into Scotland but also into Japan. The Japanese market is really, incredibly active at the moment. The reason for that is that years ago one of the key distillers now, came and trained in Scotland. He married a Scottish lady, then they went across to Japan just before the war and set up their own distillery,” Davies explains.
No matter how fascinating the story about the Japanese distiller was, I still couldn’t control my curiosity regarding Scottish distilleries. If their whisky is so legendary, it’s not only due to the knowledge acquired throughout the years which allows for refined techniques, it is also due to premium quality barley and malt. So, is it all 100% Scottish pride?
“We sell a lot of malt into Scotland because it can’t produce enough of its own barley to make the malt,” Davies told me.
Muntons’ Anaerobic Digestion plant in Stowmarket
What is staggering about the Suffolk-based company, is the amount of investment that has gone into its development and innovation.
Just last year, Muntons invested £5.4m (partly funded by RBS Invoice Finance) in an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant, to be able to treat liquid waste coming from the ingredients business at the Stowmarket facility.
“We are not connected to our local sewer, we don’t take water from the local authority, so we have to process everything that is a liquid waste on site, so that it can go into the local river. Without the anaerobic digestion we couldn’t have done that,” Davies says.
“When we started five years ago, there was very bad press about AD. People didn’t know whether it worked or not so we had a period of about three years where we actually trialled equipment. Everybody came and said ‘Our equipment will handle malt’, we asked ‘Has it?’ and they replied ‘No’, so we didn’t buy it,” he added.
Now, despite the AD plant being “running, commissioning and [officially] opening in September”, Davies was adamant: “I wanted it five years ago,” he tells me.
Impatience for innovation. A true manufacturer’s trait.