Heinz UK alerted Unite, which has members at the baby food factory, yesterday (June 12). In a statement, the firm said the cuts were being made as a result of transferring production of baby milk for China from Kendal to a New Zealand factory run by dairy giant Fonterra, where they will be co-packed.
Shipping products from New Zealand to China was less expensive than shipping them from Kendal in Cumbria, and this was why the decision had been taken, said Heinz in a statement.
However, Unite regional officer Alan McGuckin said the announcement had been a surprise. “We have always been led to believe that the future for the site was in the Far East market. It is therefore extremely disappointing and worrying that the site is going to withdraw from the Far East. Our concern is therefore for the future viability of Kendal.
‘Shocked and disappointed’
“We are shocked and disappointed by this announcement, but we have yet to get into serious discussions with the company about the proposals.”
McGuckin said Unite would begin a 30-day consultation programme with management on June 18 over the proposed job losses. Given Kendal’s location, and the fact that the closest Heinz plant to it was in Wigan, in the north west, it would be hard for workers whose jobs were threatened to relocate, he added.
In a statement, Heinz said the proposed 45 job cuts at the Kendal factory, which employs 170 people, were part of a “broader efficiency review at the site”.
“With an expanding distribution, supplying infant milks from the UK to Heinz markets in Asia and the Far East is increasingly uncompetitive and is not efficient or sustainable in the long-term,” the company stated. “As a result, it is proposed that the Kendal site will focus production on infant milks for continental Europe together with dry infant cereals and nutrition products for the UK market.”
Itziar Albisu, vice president, supply chain, global infant & nutrition, at Heinz said: “We regret having to make this proposal but it has only been made after careful consideration of all possible alternatives. The production transfer proposal and job impacts at Kendal do not reflect on the dedication and hard work of all employees at the site.
“We recognise the impact this proposal could have on our employees and the community, and we are committed to helping them through this difficult period.”
However, despite union fears about the future of babyfood production, Heinz has just announced the launch of a new infant breakfast range
The new range, which hit retailers this month, features the first ready-to-eat breakfast format specifically designed for babies, Heinz Breakfast Pots, and the first Breakfast Biscotti for infants. The company also said it was improving its Heinz Cereals and Heinz Cereal Sachets recipes.
When Food Manufacture visited the Kendal plant two years ago, factory manager Damian Killen said: “10–15% of what we make are cereals for the UK. We’re progressing with developments for India and still evaluating Brazil.
“Most of the branded milk product we produce is for China. We plan to triple the China business here in the next three years and there’s enough capacity here to support that.”
At the time, Killen said Heinz was making inroads with its continuous improvement strategy at the plant.