UNIONS today called for urgent talks with management at Premier Foods after the group revealed plans to axe 900 jobs, including more than 40 in Suffolk.

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Premier, owner of the Hovis bread brand, is to close two bakeries and three distribution sites in response to intense competition, which recently saw it lose a major supermarket contract worth £75million a year, and cost pressures resulting from a surge in wheat prices.

Worst hit will be Birmingham where 511 jobs are threatened by the closure of a combined factory and distribution operation.

A further 196 jobs will go at Greenford in west London with the closure of another bakery while two other distribution sites, at Plymouth and Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, are to be axed with the loss of 50 and 45 jobs respectively.

The closures are subject to consultation with employees but are scheduled to take place during the course of 2013.

Premier chief executive Michael Clarke said: “We recognise the impact these actions will have for our employees at the sites affected.

“Decisions will not be taken lightly but they are necessary if we are to build a strong and successful future for the bread division and those who remain with our business.”

He added: “By simplifying our cost base, we can increase focus on improving efficiency, quality and service levels to help grow our core Hovis business.”

The Unite union, which has more than 2,500 members across the Premier Foods group, and the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union, the majority union on the affected sites, called for urgent talks over the planned job losses.

Jennie Formby, national officer for food and drink at Unite, said: “The joint trade unions are calling for an urgent national meeting with Premier Foods’ management to discuss the implications of today’s announcement which is a devastating blow for the 900 workers, their families and the local communities.”

Earlier this month, Premier announced a £92.7million deal to sell its Branston Pickle operation at Bury St Edmunds to Japanese firm Mizkan, under which all 367 staff at the plant would transfer to the new owner.

In July, Mizkan purchased Premier’s vinegar and sour pickles business for £41m. That transaction included the Sarson’s, Haywards and Dufrais brands.

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