Vion’s Welsh Country Foods lamb processing plant in north Wales is under threat of closure because its key customer plans to use another supplier.
Asda accounts for 50% of the site’s business and the decision to serve notice on its supply relationship with the Anglesey plant is a major blow to the business. Throughput at the Gaerwen factory is about 640,000 lambs a year.
Welsh Country Foods confirmed it was in discussion with potential alternative customers in a bid to save the plant.
About 350 people are employed at the site and a 90-day consultation exercise is now under way.
But the managing director of Vion’s red meat business, Jose Peralta, admitted if the consultation exercise does not reveal a viable way forward, the company would have no option but to close the site. This comes as Vion is looking for a buyer for its red meat and poultry businesses in the UK. A management buyout has been approved for the pork business.
Asda’s decision to switch supplier follows what it terms as a strategic review of the supermarket’s lamb business to meet the changing needs of customers. “We have built a strong relationship with Welsh lamb farmers and we remain committed to sourcing lamb from the country,” said an Asda spokesperson.
If the plant closure is confirmed, Welsh Country Foods said it would take all practical steps to work with the relevant agencies to minimise what will be a significant impact on jobs and the local economy.
“This is an extremely difficult day for everyone at Welsh Country Foods following the decision by its key customer to de-list Welsh Country Foods as a supplier,” said Mr Peralta.
“We recognise the impact which this decision will have on the local economy and the community in Anglesey and we are in discussions with the retailer to establish if their decision can be overturned and if any steps can be taken to mitigate their decision.
“This is an extremely difficult day for everyone at Welsh Country Foods following the decision by its key customer to de-list Welsh Country Foods as a supplier.”
“Throughout the consultation process we will explore every opportunity to limit any potential job losses which will include attracting new customers to the site or the sale of the business to any interested parties. We will also work with our farmer supply base to minimise any impact that this may have on their activities.”
Wales’ red meat levy body, Hybu Cig Cymru, hopes a solution can be found.
Chairman, Dai Davies, said the business was the last remaining major abattoir in North Wales and, as such, played a vital strategic role in serving farmers in the region.
“Should Welsh Country Foods close following the consultation period, it will be a hammer blow for the entire food and farming industry in Wales,” said Mr Davies.
“We will not only lose hundreds of jobs but we will also lose the facilities provided by the plant itself – which include slaughtering, boning and retail packaging which all add value to the final product. Closure will cause long term damage to the economy of Wales.”
NFU Cymru president Ed Bailey described the news as “devastating”, but said he had been assured by Vion that Welsh Country Foods suppliers will be paid for sheep supplied during the 90-day consultation.
“I hope that the deputy minister for agriculture is prepared to consider all options to secure the future of the plants operating in Wales, given that levy collection and therefore the marketing and promotion of the sector are intrinsically linked to the location of abattoirs. We will raise the matter when we meet with the deputy minister on Monday,” he said.
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