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Cadbury races against time to avoid Butterkist shortfall

By Elaine Watson , 20-Jun-2005

Cadbury Trebor Bassett has admitted that retailers could run out of Butterkist popcorn before production is transferred to another manufacturer following the fire at its Monkhill confectionery plant in Pontefract, West Yorkshire.

The Monkhill plant supplied all of the UK's Butterkist demand, plus own-label popcorn for cinema operators and retailers, chocolate covered sweets and sugar confectionery.

The fire, which struck on June 8, destroyed the area producing popcorn and chocolate covered raisins and peanuts, but spared the gums and sweets plant, said a spokesman.

“We have some Butterkist stocks, but we can’t make popcorn at any of our other facilities, so we are still trying to find an alternative manufacturer to avoid a shortfall. We have had positive conversations but we haven’t struck a deal yet.”

In the meantime, account managers had been keeping customers informed of the situation, he said.

The Pontefract site employs 500 staff, of which around about 125 work in the popcorn building. Permanent staff have been transferred to the other part of the factory, while temporary staff have been laid off.

It was too early to assess the financial impact of the blaze, which started when a batch of popcorn became too hot, he said. “It’s too early to say how long it will take to get the plant up and running again.”

He declined to discuss the company’s insurance cover for the factory, which did not have a sprinkler system, according to the West Yorkshire fire and rescue service.

However, insurance experts said many food plants lack sprinkler systems, partly because accidental activation could shower food-handling areas in water laden with bacteria.

The fire is the latest in a series to strike food plants in recent months, following blazes at Geest's pasta and garlic bread plant in Barton-upon-Humber; Rathbones' Bakery in Carlisle, and Premier Foods’ pickle factory in Bury St Edmunds.

Butterkist had a 44% share of the UK's £24m popcorn market in 2004, claimed the company.

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