The decision, which according to unions will result in at least 128 job losses, will mean the closure of Bernard Matthews’ chicken production at its headquarters at Great Witchingham, Norfolk, with the loss of 69 jobs. A further 59 managerial, technical and clerical staff jobs will also go at the head office. Turkey production will remain unaffected.
The announcement was criticised by unions. Unite union officer Steve Harley said employees felt betrayed as Boparan Private Office – owner of Birmingham-based 2 Sisters Food Group – had said it would secure the jobs of 2,000 workers in Norfolk and Suffolk when it acquired the company last year.
Members feel let down by the decision
Mr Harley said members felt let down and betrayed. “Our members, who met senior representatives of the 2 Sisters Food Group during the transition period, feel very let down, as these representatives indicated that investment would secure existing jobs and there was also the opportunity to attract more chicken business to the site, so utilising existing spare capacity.
“Unite accepted that difficult decisions needed to be made as the firm needs to return to profit, but we will fight to ensure that cost reductions are not simply about reducing the workforce headcount.”
Mr Harley added that Bernard Matthews had suffered from a lack of business strategy under its previous owners, Rutland Partners.
Decision to cease chicken production based on economics
A Bernard Matthews spokesman said: “These changes will enable the business to focus on what we’re best at and allow us to make things happen with agility and pace.”
It is understood an arrangement separating agriculture and feed production from primary processing, similar to how 2 Sisters Food Group interacts with 2 Agriculture and Hook 2 Sisters, is being developed.
James Hook, Hook 2 Sisters director, said the decision to cease chicken production at Great Witchingham, had been based on economics.
“It was not economical to process chicken at a seasonal turkey plant, that runs for six weeks of the year, and so chicken will be taken to our new fully automated, state-of-the-art plant at Scunthorpe,” he told Poultry World.
£45m investment to create advanced processing plant
2 Sisters Food Group announced last August that it was investing £45m in the Scunthorpe plant to create the world’s most advanced poultry processing plant.
Contracts with chicken producers will be honoured and Mr Hook said the outlook for Bernard Matthews turkeys was good with orders better than this time last year: “We are looking forward to a good Christmas in terms of turkey sales – numbers are marginally up on last year.”