In a statement the company said the move followed the recent closure of the evening shift at the three Chard sites to improve efficiency in light of the impact on demand of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food Manufacture understands production volumes had suffered from falling demand for ready meals as consumers' purchasing habits changed as they continued to work from home. The adverse trends influencing this lack of demand were showing no signs of recovery, and more significant action was now required to protect its long-term future, Oscar Mayer said.
The sites were in need of refurbishment to future-proof their operation, yet such investment was considered neither practically nor financially viable given the existing configuration of the units.
Alternative sites not deemed feasible
In an attempt to save local jobs, management had been looking at developing alternative sites in the area – such as at Millfield – but, in the end, that was not deemed feasible for their future needs.
The company informed staff, customers and suppliers of its intention to enter into consultation with its employees over the proposed transfer of the Chard manufacturing business to its other UK sites over the next 12 months.
The redundancy consultation period will commence on 10 November and will be subject to a minimum of 45 days consultation, after which a final decision on the future of Oscar Mayer in Chard will be made.
'Desperately difficult decision'
“Consulting our colleagues on a potential closure has been a desperately difficult decision to come to," said Francois Legrain, chief executive of Oscar Mayer. "We believe we have exhausted every avenue to continue future production at Chard, and currently we are unable to see a way to make the economics of this site work in such a challenging market.
“Oscar Mayer fully recognises its responsibility to the local community and sincerely regrets the distress and disappointment this move may cause. This closure, should it occur, is no reflection on the talent and capability of our dedicated staff, who have worked exceptionally hard to help us increase efficiency, for which we remain extremely grateful.
“I only hope it is of some reassurance that every measure will be taken to assist our colleagues in their search for meaningful alternative employment, should the time come. Until any decision is finalised, we are determined to continue to provide the highest standard of production to meet our valued customers’ demands.”
Own-label ready meals
Oscar Mayer has been at the forefront of UK own-label packaged ready meals in the UK since 1985 and is a long-standing partner to many leading UK supermarket chains.
The three sites in Chard have been part of the Oscar Mayer Group since its origin and collectively are the smallest of Oscar Mayer’s manufacturing units.
The business continues to employ more than 2,000 people at its Rowan Foods site in Wrexham and its Ferndale Foods site at Erith in Kent, whose jobs are unaffected by this announcement.
German private equity group Deutsche Beteiligungs acquired Oscar Mayer in April 2017 alongside Abbelen, which makes rissoles and burgers for German retailers. The two processors operate under the umbrella of More Than Meals management holding company.
The company's roots lie in retail butchery, starting with a shop in South London. The shift to manufacturing took place in 1955. It acquired the Chard operations in 1983.