A multi-million pound expansion of a Lynn food factory has been hailed as a show of confidence in West Norfolk and Britain.
A new £6 million office complex at the Mars plant in Hansa Road was opened by environment secretary and South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss this afternoon.
The ceremony took place on the day the company announced plans to spend £23 million expanding its production lines at the site.
The project, which is due to be completed early next year, has been planned in order to meet growing demand for the firm’s Uncle Ben’s ready to heat rice products, which were developed in Lynn.
Michael Ryan, president of Mars Foods Europe and Russia, said: “It’s a great example of British engineering.
“We have been investing in this site for the last 15 years. This is the next stage.”
And he insisted there had been no second thoughts about the project in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, pointing out the firm has invested around $1.4 billion in the country over the past 20 years.
He said: “Our focus is on expanding the site. Rice is a growth area for us in the UK and our overseas markets.
“We have got a substantial commitment in this country and we will continue that. We are 100 per cent committed to the UK.”
Ms Truss admitted it was “no coincidence” that the firm’s announcement had attracted substantial national coverage because of the economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote.
But she highlighted the 11 per cent growth in Britain’s food manufacturing sector over the past five years as proof of what can be achieved with further investment.
She said: “Here in the UK, we produce twice the amount of new products than France and Germany put together. It is a very innovative and exciting market we’ve got here.
“The commitment that Mars are showing to the operation here in King’s Lynn is fantastic.”
The new offices have been designed as part of the company’s drive to make its operations carbon neutral by 2040.
Its features include a living green roof made with heather, which aids heat and water absorption as well as helping wildlife, carbon dioxide controllers in meeting rooms, automated blinds to stop animals being disturbed by lights from the building and automated window opening mechanisms to aid energy efficiency.
North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said: “This is a very special day. It’s a state of the art facility and really good news for King’s Lynn. It’s a huge commitment from Mars. They really believe in this site.
He also hopes further technical development work, which is currently done in Europe, could be brought to the site in the future.
West Norfolk Council deputy leader Alistair Beales added: “We welcome this significant investment into the King’s Lynn site.
“We are very proud of King’s Lynn’s longstanding relationship with Mars Foods and are keen to continue to work with local Mars Foods management to support and strengthen their presence in the town.
“They represent a vital part of the local economy and bring valuable employment and commercial opportunities to the area.”