End of an era: Unilever is set to shut Colman’s Norwich factory
Colman’s is leaving its historic site in Norwich as the mustard-maker’s owners Unilever prepare to pull the plug on a factory that has been producing the condiment for more than two centuries.
Colman’s has been based in Norfolk since Jeremiah Colman started his mustard and flour business in 1814, and it has been producing mustard in its current factory since 1858.
But the future of the plant has been thrown into doubt after drinks-maker Britvic, which co-owns the site, revealed plans to close production of drinks there by 2019.
The move has forced Unilever to review its business in the region – potentially ending decades of mustard production in Norwich.
Around 242 Britvic workers are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the closure, while some 60 Unilever staff could be affected.
Britvic, which makes the Robinsons drinks brand at the plant, said the closure was part of its three-year productivity drive and £240million investment into its manufacturing sites.
It will be transferring production to its sites in east London, Leeds and Rugby in Warwickshire.
It is not known where Colman’s Mustard could now be produced –but Norwich’s name appears on jars. It also sources around 60 per cent of all mustard seeds from the surrounding area.
Simon Litherland, chief executive of Britvic, said the decision to shut the site had not come ‘lightly’ and the firm appreciated it was ‘upsetting news’ for staff.
He said what the firm is proposing presents significant productivity and efficiency savings in its manufacturing operations.
Colman’s has been based in Norfolk since Jeremiah Colman started his mustard and flour business in 1814, and it has been producing mustard in its current factory since 1858
He also claims it will deliver environmental benefits and, ‘coupled with our ongoing investment programme in our GB manufacturing operations, ensure that we have the flexibility and capability we need to respond to changing consumer trends faster and more efficiently’.
Litherland added: ‘No decisions will be made prior to full and proper consultation with employees and our focus is on ensuring we offer our colleagues on-going support and assistance throughout this difficult time.’
Unilever said its operations with Britvic are ‘uniquely intertwined’ and relied on a shared infrastructure. It said: ‘Although no decisions have been made, we need to recognise that proposed withdrawal would have serious implications for Unilever in Norwich.
‘The review will look in detail at the impact of Britvic’s proposed withdrawal from the site and will consider options for the most effective sourcing of the current Norwich product range.
‘One of those options will include the potential closure of our Norwich factory.’
The company added that it recognised Colman’s strong Norwich heritage and would seek to uphold the connection whatever the outcome.
But the move has sparked a backlash from union Unite, which claims the closure will leave hundreds without a job.
Rhys McCarthy, Unite national officer, said: ‘The sad news that Britvic is closing its operations in Norwich also has an impact on Unilever workers who the share the same site.
‘This is very painful news for our members and their families at Britvic and we will be giving the maximum support to our members at what is a very difficult time in the days and weeks ahead.’
‘Unilever has today announced a review of the whole site to be concluded by the end of November. Everything is up for review including expanding its operations, selling part of the site and, more worryingly, closure.
‘The iconic Colman’s Mustard has been produced at the same factory since the 1860s.’
He added that the union will now be seeking assurances and applying pressure to secure jobs in the region stating: ‘Anything else won’t cut the mustard.
‘The whole of Norfolk needs to come together to fight for the future of Colman’s Mustard that is so identified with Norwich.’
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