A DUTCH-owned food company which is planning to sell up all its food operations in the UK, including a range of sites across East Anglia, says talks are continuing and it is “hopeful” that it will be able to announce an update in the next few days.

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But Vion UK, which bought up Grampian Country Food Group in 2008, employs nearly 2,000 staff across the region, mainly at plants in Eye, Witham and Haverhill, stressed that no deals had yet been signed.

“Talks are continuing and we’re hopeful of being able to issue an update on progress in the next few days but no deals have been signed for any of the sites at the moment,” a spokesman for the company said.

Vion UK, which has its head office in Livingston and employs 13,000 people at 38 sites in the UK, announced its sell-off decision on November 19. Its Eye poultry processing plant employs 449 staff, the Haverhill factory, where it runs a sliced cooked meats operation, has 330, and its Witham poultry processing plant, has 730 employees

It also has about 350 staff employed across its agricultural operations, at Occold, near Eye, and Stanton, near Bury St Edmunds, where it has chicken hatcheries, and at other small agricultural activities in the area.

It also has feed mills at Stoke Ferry at King’s Lynn and at Chetisham, Ely.

The firm says it is confident that it will successfully sell its UK pork, red meat and poultry business units as ongoing viable businesses.

Peter Barr, chairman of VION UK said: “Working with our advisers Rabobank/Rothschild, we have already started detailed discussions with a number of interested parties, including management, regarding the acquisition of the various parts of the UK business and these are progressing well.

“The level of interest in the businesses has been strong and we hope to be in a position in the near future to give further details about the progress which has been made.

“The sale process will be completed in a smooth and orderly fashion to ensure business continuity for our employees, agricultural and other suppliers and our customers.”

Vion NV entered the UK in the late 1990s with the acquisition of Key Country Foods, followed by Tranfield and Grampian Country Food Group in 2008 and today employs 13,000 people at 38 sites in the UK.

It blamed poor market conditions in the European pork sector and the failure of its acquisition and growth strategy to deliver the financial performance it was hoping for its new course of action, including the UK sell-off. It said it had been forced to “take some difficult but necessary decisions”.

CEO and executive board chairman Dirk Kloosterboer said: “This is a particularly difficult day for everyone at VION. The decisions we have made have not been easy ones, but they are essential. We are returning Vion Food to its core pork and beef activities in the Netherlands and Germany, whilst Vion Ingredients will continue to develop globally.

“The divestments, of which our British food activities constitute by far the largest part, will be implemented carefully. These are steps in a challenging programme to get our food activities back to the desired returns, but I am fully confident that, with the hard work and support of all our people, we will once again ensure Vion’s strong position in our chosen markets.”

Vion supplies beef, lamb, pork and chicken products to a broad range of blue-chip customers across the food retailing, food manufacturing and food service sectors.

In October, the firm announced that it had entered into an agreement for the sale of US-based Banner Pharmacaps, a specialised manufacturer and developer of soft gel caps for the pharmaceutical industry, to Patheon Inc.

VION said is was now focused on a detailed process to sell its pork, red meat and poultry UK businesses.

“The interests of the employees, customers and suppliers in the UK are of the utmost importance and Vion is keen to provide clarity to all those involved as soon as possible,” it said.

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