Coca-Cola shed 17 jobs when it shut the Colwall plant last autumn, claiming that the brand was too small to compete in a mass market; it has since formally striven to sell the site since February 8, with strong rumoured interest from parties keen to restart production.
Carly Tinkler, president, Malvern Spa Association (MSA) told FoodManufacture.co.uk that American oilman Robert Day (who lives locally) “was one of the first to express an interest” in resurrecting production after the site closed, with his current interest “totally bona fide”.
Tinkler was speaking after the MSA attended a meeting organised by Coca-Cola last Friday (hosted by local Tory MP Bill Wiggin) to present its site plans to potential buyers and local stakeholders. Tinkler said the firm confirmed that it is currently only able to market the site for industrial use, given that it only has planning use permission under categories B1 (industrial, office, research and development of products and processes) B2 (industrial) and B8 (distribution or storage).
Other parties reportedly interested in the site include Tyrrells Potato Chips founder William Chase (now of Chase Distillery), who is believed to have attended Friday’s meeting. However, Tinkler said that one sticking point with his interest, from the MSA’s perspective, is the fact that he wishes to bottle the water at his Leominster farm, rather than at Colwall.
Site marketed for industrial use
Following the meeting, a Coca-Cola spokesperson said: “Today’s meeting was about outlining the sales and marketing process. We recognise that there is significant local interest in the site and we also wanted to keep the local community up to date with our plans.
“We are extremely encouraged by the level of interest that was in the room today and we remain committed to ensuring we leave the site in a responsible manner. Strutt & Parker are already in dialogue with interested buyers and will now be following up with everyone who attended the meeting or has expressed an interest to date".
Tinkler said she wished Coca-Cola had marketed the site more actively to date as a bottling plant,and believed the stumbling block for interested parties thus far had been limited information on the “bottling plant’s economics, which would allow interested parties to make an informed bid”.
Coca-Cola: production overly expensive
Announcing the site’s closure last October, Coca-Cola said it could not produce Malvern Water on a large enough scale to compete, with production overly expensive and modern rival plants producing more water each day than the site did every month.
But Tinkler said this missed the point: “Coca-Cola said the product wasn’t competitive, and yet the site is viable and people want Malvern Water. You saw it onsale in vending machines and airports. It has a royal warrant, so it’s potentially a high-class product,” said Tinkler.
The 3.5 acre, 34,280 sq ft Malvern site is now being marketed as a "former bottling plant/industrial premises with potential for alternative employment uses, subject to obtaining any necessary planning consents" by estate agent Strutt & Parker's Market Harborough office.
"Any similar employment related uses, including light industrial purposes, may be acceptable to the local planning authority, however prospective purchasers should make their own enquiries with Herefordshire Council as to their intentions for the site," said the agent.