Mitchell hit out at the firm for its “mysterious” decision to conduct a review of the business, based at its Europarc site in Grimsby, after Kerry blamed increasing competition in the frozen meal sector for the potential closure.
He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We have assumed that the place is closing. It is very sudden and it has been very badly handled by Kerry. It is really very sudden.
“I know the frozen food market is competitive but it has been shown that, in times of recession, the frozen market holds up better than other sectors, as people tend to look for long-term value. I’m not sure how final the decision is yet, but the consultation process is underway and the workers will need support and advice.”
Mitchell confirmed that a taskforce from the Department for Work and Pensions, Grimsby Institute of Higher Education and North East Lincolnshire Council will now be meeting on Thursday (February 9) to discuss further employment options for the Kerry workers.
His comments follow the firm’s announcement on Monday (February 6) that a 90-day consultation had begun at the plant. Kerry said unless a solution was found to end falling sales, production at the site would be stopped and the jobs would be cut.
But Frank Hayes, director of corporate affairs at Kerry, denied that the decision had already been made on the future of the site.
He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We have not yet arrived at a decision about the future of the facility and a consultation process is underway.
“The frozen meals sector has continued to be competitive and we have lost business across a number of accounts. But despite the measures we have taken, we have failed to restore the business to a profitable level.”
Kerry will now “review all possible solutions”, according to Hayes. But he stressed that, at this moment, the firm had failed to identify a plan to save the business.
Hayes also revealed that should the site close following the consultation process, production would be transferred to Kerry’s factory in County Monaghan, Ireland.
Unite the Union described the decision as a “tremendous blow” for staff at the plant and the potential job losses as “deeply worrying” for the Grimsby economy.
This was echoed by Mitchell who confirmed that unemployment was a serious issue in the area. He also called on Kerry to provide new jobs for the community should production be transferred to Ireland.
He said: “I think it is very mysterious that they have closed so suddenly but I certainly hope new options can be found for the factory. The area already suffers from high unemployment.”
Kerry confirmed that it was currently investigating “alternative projects” for the site.