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Unions seek British jobs assurances in wake of shock £18bn Heinz takeover

By Gary Scattergood , 15-Feb-2013
Last updated on 15-Feb-2013 at 13:11 GMT

Union bosses are seeking urgent meetings with the new owners of Heinz after it was snapped up by a consortium led by US investor Warren Buffett in a shock £18bn deal.

The purchase – which some commentators claim is the biggest in the food industry’s history –  has seen Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway firm team up with Jorge Lemann, Brazil’s second richest man.

It is believed Buffett will stump up around £8bn, with the rest of the cash coming from Lemann’s 3G Capital investment company and loans from Wells Fargo and JP Morgan banks.

Heinz UK and Ireland’s main food manufacturing facility is based in Kitt Green, near Wigan, and turns out more than 1bn cans of beans every year. It is Europe’s largest food factory.

The firm also has manufacturing sites in Telford, Worcester, Westwick, Kendal and Dundalk in Ireland.

Jobs of 3,000 members

The Unite union is now seeking assurances that the jobs of its 3,000 members are secure.

Unite national officer, Jennie Formby said: “While we recognise the commitment given by Berkshire Hathaway that it will be  ‘business as usual’ at Heinz, the 3,000 Unite members who work for the company in the UK will want more detailed assurances that their jobs and sites will remain secure.

“Unite will be seeking an early meeting with senior management to allow us to explore in greater detail what impact, if any, this acquisition will have for the UK business.”

At presents, it is unclear who will lead Heinz in its new era.

3G md Alex Behring said no decisions had been taken over the future of Heinz chief executive Bill Johnson, who has been in charge since 2000.

World’s best known brands

Reacting to the purchase, analysts have said Buffett and Lemann have bought some of the world’s best known brands which have the potential for further growth in developing regions.

While Heinz generates the largest proportion of its sales in Europe, it is its North American consumer goods arm that is the most profitable. However, sales in China have been soaring and it is believed there will now be an increasing focus on the Asian markets.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway business already has a variety of food assets, including Dairy Queen ice cream chain, chocolatier See’s Candies and food distributor McLane.

Analysts also said the deal could be the first step in a broader wave of mergers for the food and beverage industry.

“Maybe for the consumer staples group in general this may start some talk about consolidation. Even corporate entities are flush with cash, interest rates are low, it would seemingly make sense,” said Jack Russo an analyst at Edward Jones.

The deal is expected to be finalised in the third quarter of 2013, subject to shareholder and regulatory approval.

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