Unite regional officer Rick Coyle spoke out about the decision, voicing complaints from the union about the decision. “The contract has run for 19 years with no complaint about the service quality and delivery, which makes the Tesco decision all the more brutal,” he said. “Over the last three years, more than £20m has been invested in the Burton-on-Trent plant, making it one [of] the most modern food production sites in the UK. This should give confidence to the workforce that new orders will be obtained. Unite will do all it can to work with management in the quest for new work at this premier site.”
The major contract which Kerry Foods previously held with Tesco was to supply chilled Indian and Oriental ready meals produced at the facility in Burton-on-Trent. While Unite may be keen to reassure everyone they are looking after their production and manufacturing jobs, the truth is that the company may not be able to replace the contract in time to save the positions.
Loss of contract
A Kerry Foods spokesperson confirmed the news about the deal, but would not comment on how much it had been worth for the business. “Regrettably, a major customer has confirmed it will be moving our chilled meals business, currently produced at our Burton site, to another supplier,” they said. “We have been working together for nearly two decades and, as one of the biggest employers to the local area, our first priority is to our people. We will continue to work with them and relevant suppliers in the near future as we explore other opportunities for our business.”
They also refused to comment on the impact the loss of the contract would directly have on food jobs at the site, though the implications seem clear.
“Following an extensive six- month review we have taken the decision to make changes to the supply chain for our Indian and Oriental ready meals,” said a Tesco spokesperson when the decision to change suppliers was made public. “We remain absolutely committed to working in partnership with all our suppliers and will do all we can to support Kerry Foods during the transition process.”
Tesco have also promised that they will leave a team in place to work with Kerry Foods over the next eight months, guiding a smooth transition of supply for both businesses in partnership with officials from the manufacturing side. Given the timescale involved, it appears unlikely that the decision will be reversed: a lot of planning will have gone into ensuring that the transition is done in a way that works for everyone, and so preparatory work will be ongoing at their new supplier already.
For the time being, it seems clear that the employees at Kerry Foods have a sensible reason to be worried about the future of their jobs. By releasing the news this early, and making a point about the worry that exists over the jobs, it’s likely that Kerry Foods and Unite are strategizing to attract a new customer as soon as possible. After all, the word is now out that a major production facility, capable of producing ready meals of the type that have proven so popular at Tesco, is now available for business on a large scale.