Unilever to close Colman’s Mustard Norwich site

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Unilever's Colman's Mustard factory in Norwich is to close next year
Unilever's Colman's Mustard factory in Norwich is to close next year

Related tags Mustard Unilever

News that Unilever’s Colman Mustard site in Norwich is to close in 2019 has been met with shock and anger by unions representing workers at the factory.

The news followed an announcement from Britvic​ last year that it planned to close its half of the Norwich site it shared with Unilever.

A Unilever spokeswoman said: “Following Britvic’s decision to close its Norwich factory on our shared site, which has serious implications for Unilever, we have announced the outcome of a review of our manufacturing at the site.”

“Under the proposals which we have shared with our employees, Unilever’s Norwich factory, where we make Colman’s products, would unfortunately close at the end of 2019, with a phased transfer of production likely to begin in 2018.​"

Unilever is to move production of Colman’s Mustard to Burton upon Trent, and some to Germany, with a new facility opening in Norwich for milling mustard seeds, co-run with local farmers, according to the GMB union.

The closure of the factory will impact all 113 jobs, with 43 transferred to the site in Burton upon Trent, 20 to the new facility in Norwich, and all other workers being made redundant, the union claimed.

“This is absolutely devastating news for the workforce at Colman’s, for the city of Norwich and for manufacturing in East Anglia,”​ said Warren Kenny, GMB regional secretary.

‘Devastating decision’

“GMB has just heard the news and it is our immediate intention to speak with our members at Unilever and to seek an immediate meeting with the company and local elected representatives to fully understand what has lead Unilever to make this devastating decision, and whether there are alternatives that should, and must be considered.”

At the same time, the Unite union has urged Unilever to look again at its business case, following the announcement yesterday (Thursday, January 4) that two centuries of Colman’s Mustard production in Norwich will end next year. The union vowed to fight compulsory redundancies.

Unite, which has a small number of engineering members at Colman’s, described the announcement as “a curate’s egg”. ​While it was “devastating’​ that the Colman’s Mustard site was closing, there would be 25 jobs at a new milling facility in or near Norwich that Unilever was setting up with local farmers.

The Burton site, which makes Bovril and Marmite, would see the creation of 43 new production jobs. Packaging for Colman’s Mustard is to move to a Unilever site in Germany.

“It is a devastating day for Norwich that the production of Colman’s Mustard will cease production in 2019, ending a tradition stretching back two centuries,” ​said Unite’s national officer Rhys McCarthy, who holds the Unilever portfolio.

“We are urging Unilever to look again at its business case for closure. The decision last month by Britvic to close its half of the site, which produces its Robinsons and Fruit Shoot brands, was unhelpful for the future of Colman’s Mustard in Norwich – but we still don’t believe that closure is the only option for the dedicated workforce.

“In terms of job opportunities, it is a curate’s egg as there will be new jobs being created at the new milling facility in Norfolk and also at Burton upon Trent. There will be no redundancies in Norwich before September this year.

“Our aim during the consultation period will be to retain as many skilled jobs as possible within Unilever and that there should be no compulsory redundancies.

“Unite is giving maximum support to our members at both Britvic and Unilever during this difficult time for them and their families.”

'Protect the historic link'

The Unilever spokeswoman added: “We will protect the historic link between Colman’s and Norwich by retaining the production and packing of Colman’s mustard powder, the historic mustard milling process, and mint processing in a new state-of-the-art facility in the Norwich area, created through a new long-term partnership with a consortium of local farmers, backed by significant investment from Unilever. We will also continue to source our mint and mustard locally as we have for generations.

“Manufacturing of the vast majority of the other products is planned to move to other sites in the UK, predominantly Burton upon Trent, home of Marmite and Bovril, reaffirming our commitment to UK food manufacturing. The packing of dry sauces will be absorbed by existing production lines and existing employees at a Unilever factory in Germany, which already makes the dry sauce mix.

“Unilever will now continue consultation on the proposals with our Norwich employees and their representatives."

She added: “We recognise that these proposals will be difficult news for our Norwich employees, their families, and the whole community in Norwich. We are committed to supporting our employees during this difficult time. We will also offer all employees whose roles would be affected by the proposals a package of support, including redeployment opportunities at other sites, and services to help people find new employment.”

The government also expressed its disappointment at the closure news.

A spokesman at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said: “The government is disappointed Unilever has decided to close its Norwich plant, though we welcome Unilever’s commitment to mustard milling and mint production in Norwich. While this decision is no reflection on the performance of the site’s highly-skilled workforce, it is still clearly a worrying time for Unilever’s dedicated workers and their families.

“The company will now enter a consultation period and the government will continue to work closely with Unilever, local MPs and unions throughout this process."

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