The 'biggest and most modern' fruit and vegetable depot in the north east of England has officially opened its doors on Tyneside.

The new 16,000sq ft, £1.5 million depot on Simonside Industrial Estate is now home to J Fishwick & Sons which has moved from its old base in Tudor Road in South Shields.

The move is expected to create 40 jobs as the company expands its prepared foods division to supply restaurants, cafes, hospitals and schools across the region.

The premises will house £250,000 worth of new hi-tech equipment to make the expansion into the freshly prepared vegetable market possible.

Lead member for corporate services with South Tyneside Council, councillor Eddie McAtominey, said: 'This is an exciting project that is creating quality jobs in an area of high unemployment. There are great plans in the pipeline for Fishwick's which will see the business grow and grow.' The family operation has already grown after it bought out a small competitor, James Crawford & Sons, early last year.

Turnover has doubled in the last 10 months and the company's next commercial objective is to hit an annual turnover target of £5m.

Over the last nine months Business Link Tyne & Wear has helped the company to improve its management systems and staff training, as well as assisting in the implementation of accounts training, ISO 9000, Investors In People and staff recruitment.

Business Link Tyne & Wear's business adviser Mali Saha said: 'This company has a huge potential for growth and will become one of the most important food processors in the North.