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Unilever has embarked on investment into an ice-cream factory in China, with plans to widen the site’s output to take in more food products.

The Wall’s owner has broken ground on the expansion of its operations in Taicang, a city close to Shanghai. The first phase of the project will focus on ice cream, with production from a new facility set to start in 2022. The plant will have an annual output of 150,000 tonnes of ice cream.

However, Unilever said the EUR100m (US$112.1m) investment contained plans for the operations in Taicang to go through an “upgrade” to become “Unilever China’s food production base”. In a statement, the company said it had reserved land that “may be developed to produce tea bags, seasonings, food and personal care products”.

Unilever has five plants in China manufacturing products for its food and refreshment division, items including tea, ice cream, and seasonings products.

Since 1996, when Unilever first invested in the Taicang factory, it has been expanded in 2003 and 2013. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the latest project, Rohit Jawa, executive vice president for Unilever’s operations in north Asia, said: “We will build the new Taicang manufacturing site into the world’s first ice-cream factory integrating automation, intelligence and agility. Given the scale of the climate crisis, we are making an additional commitment: net zero emissions from all our products – from the sourcing of the materials to the point of sale – by 2039, which is also a target for Taicang manufacturing site.”

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By GlobalData

Unilever said sales of Wall’s ice cream had grown at a “double-digit” rate “every year” during “the past few years”, without specifying the time-frame or the source of the data.

Jawa added: “China was among Unilever’s first markets around the globe to return to office and resume production. Unilever’s global focus in the second quarter is sustaining growth. [The] Taicang manufacturing site will be an excellent case to boost morale to deliver and restore confidence for Unilever global.”

According to research from GlobalData, the Chinese ice cream sector is expected to grow from CNY49.8bn (US$7bn) in 2018 to CNY59.3bn by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 3.5%.