IRISH SUGAR producers have been thrown into turmoil with news that Greencore is to close one of its two remaining plants with the loss of 326 jobs.
In a statement to the Dublin stock exchange on Wednesday (Jan 12), Greencore, which took over the four Irish Sugar factories in 1991, said it would be closing down its Carlow plant in mid-March and concentrating production at Mallow, Co Cork.
Chief executive David Dilger described the decision as “painful, but unavoidable”, blaming increased competition and the impending reform of the EU sugar regime.
“Consolidating manufacturing at Mallow is necessary to secure the survival of the Irish beet growing and sugar processing industries,” he said.
Other countries had already been targeting Irish Sugar‘s customers, while impending quota cuts made moving to one manufacturing facility unavoidable.
Rumours had been rife earlier in the week that one of the plants was to go, with Carlow thought the most likely due to environmental concerns and the fact it is located close to the town, with greater building potential.
Mallow has also benefited from extra investment in recent years and has a rail head, which will allow two thirds of Carlow‘s beet supply to be redirected by rail.
Farm groups were quick to condemn the board decision, saying the closure would decimate Irish sugar beet production even before details of EU sugar reform were known.
The Irish Creamery Milk Producers‘ Association called on farm minister Mary Coughlan to intervene on behalf of the country‘s 3700 beet growers.
“There are major socio-economic ramifications for the whole rural community that have to be addressed,” said a spokesman.
But Irish Sugar chief executive Sean Brady said the rationalisation would help reduce the group‘s annual cost base by up to €7m, increasing its chances of survival in the long term.