Brexit blamed as plug pulled on ‘last remaining’ dairy factory in East Anglia

Pur Natur is pulling out of the UK after suffering falling sales and uncertainty over Brexit Pictur

Pur Natur is pulling out of the UK after suffering falling sales and uncertainty over Brexit Picture: DANIEL HAMBURY - Credit: Archant

The last remaining larger dairy operation in East Anglia is earmarked for closure, with the loss of 19 jobs.

The Marybelle Pur Natur dairy factory at Walpole is supplied by three local farmers Picture: SUFFOL

The Marybelle Pur Natur dairy factory at Walpole is supplied by three local farmers Picture: SUFFOLK FARMHOUSE CHEESES - Credit: Archant

The departure of Marybelle Pur Natur - based in north Suffolk - will also hit its small band of three dairy farmer suppliers who must now look for other markets for their milk.

"The company are very sad and will do everything they can to support the staff that are there and also our farmers - we'll do everything we can to support them, and customers as well," a spokesman said.

MORE - Family dairy products enterprise Marybelle enters partnership deal with Belgian firm Pur Natur

Uncertainty over Brexit - and a downturn in demand for locally-produced milk and yogurts - are being blamed for the downfall of the Belgian-owned Marybelle operation at Walpole, near Halesworth, which has a turnover of around £2m to £3m. It is not clear yet when the business will close its doors, but its employees have been informed, and Belgian managers are heading over to see them.

Katharine and Jason Salisbury are among the farmers affected by the Pur Natur decision Picture: SUF

Katharine and Jason Salisbury are among the farmers affected by the Pur Natur decision Picture: SUFFOLK FARMHOUSE CHEESES - Credit: Archant

The business's much larger parent company in Belgium continues on a very healthy footing, with £100m sales across France, Spain, Germany, Scandinavia and even a venture in Japan.


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In early 2014, Marybelle Dairy, which was previously owned by the Strachan family at Rendham Hall, near Framlingham, was snapped up by another larger Belgian-owned operation, becoming a subsidiary of Pur Natur Invest.

The new owners were keen to expand the business, but over the last year, the going has been very tough, the spokesman explained.

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"The main factors in the decision were a downturn in the interest in local products - in milks and yogurts - that they have experienced over the last 12 months, and also the major uncertainty around Brexit, because a lot of the food packaging comes from Germany, and there's a lot of uncertainty around what will happen."

Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses in Creeting St Mary is branching out into butter and cream making to help

Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses in Creeting St Mary is branching out into butter and cream making to help make up for the loss of the Marybelle Pur Natur contract Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

Although the bottles for the milk are made in the UK, the yogurt and cream packaging and the fruit preparations are imported from continental Europe, he explained, causing uncertainty over how the imports would be affected.

"The timing all coincides with no one knowing what's happening - that was a major part of the decision," the spokesman said. "It was not a decision made lightly."

He added: "It's very sad news for the staff and it's very sad news for the farmers and the area in general as well."

Dairy production in East Anglia has been on a steep decline in recent years, with the loss of a big Arla operation at Hatfield Peverel and a Dairycrest factory at Chadwell Heath. Other than two very small on-farm dairy operations in Norfolk, Marybelle Pur Natur is the last larger processor in the region.

Dairy farmers Jason and Katharine Salisbury, of Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses farm at Coddenham, near Ipswich, are among the affected suppliers. "It's a really big loss for us because basically we invested quite a lot to produce the extra milk," said Katharine.

The couple, who make cheeses from the milk produced by the on-farm dairy herd, upped production after entering into a contract with the company, taking on a neighbouring herd from a retiring dairy farmer. At first it went well, but more recently they were given six months' notice that their contract would be coming to an end in December. "To have that taken away was quite a big shock," she said. "To be honest, it's a big headache and it's very stressful as well, but we are also aware that we are in a far happier position because we do process."

She is now branching out into making butter and cream to use up as much milk as she can, she said.

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