Both sites will be closed from April with up to 67 redundancies possible at each site; milk distribution currently handled at Cupar will be transfered to depots in Whitburn and Aberdeen.
John Gorle, national officer for USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) said: “Despite constructive talks, the company has today confirmed they intend to proceed with their plans to close their dairy at Okehampton and their distribution depot at Cupar.”
“We are very disappointed the company rejected proposals to save both sites, but the decisions reflect the ever increasing competitiveness of the sector and the rising price of fuel has certainly not helped our case.”
Some other positions available
Robert Wiseman group operations director Martyn Mulcahy said efforts by management, staff and unions to bring costs in line with other Robert Wiseman dairies had failed: “We very much regret the impact that this decision will have on the area and will provide assistance to those who will be affected. It is our hope that some staff at Okehampton [andCupar] might consider taking up positions available elsewhere in our network of dairy and distribution facilities and we will provide support should staff wish to take up this option.”
Gorle added: “It is a very sad day for the loyal and hardworking staff at both sites, many of who have given their entire working lives to the company. In this worsening economic climate, finding another job is going to be very difficult.
"Talks will continue on the detail and timetable for the closures and USDAW will be working to secure the best possible severance deal for members and a comprehensive package of support to help them find alternative employment.”
Diesel price impact
Wiseman released a trading statement in late January warning that sustained increases in the price of diesel and HDPE (used in plastic milk bottles), could “materially impact costs going forward”, and said Okehampton would require significant investment to achieve the operating efficiencies attained at its other dairies.
A spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Okehampton processes about 25m litres a year of niche products, such as West Country Devon and Cornish milk, cream and clotted cream.
“If the decision is taken at the end of the consultation process to close the dairy, we will carry on making West Country milk at our Bridgwater dairy but would no longer be producing Devon or Cornish milk or clotted cream.”
Okehampton, which was commissioned in 1997 and acquired by Wiseman in 2006 from Milk Link, was not as efficient as Wiseman's other sites, he added. “This is an issue of whether Okehampton is delivering on efficiency, performance and margin. Every dairy is challenged in these terms.”