UK: Britain’s food chain ‘safeguarded’ by latest Vion UK sale deal

Vion UK

Vion UK - Credit: Archant

FARMERS’ leaders have welcomed the sale of a large-scale poultry and red meat business in the UK, believing it will safeguard a key supply chain for UK producers.

Vion UK meat processing plants in Suffolk and Essex were among those given a “viable future” after they were acquired by the 2 Sisters Food Group this week.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Peter Kendall said the move would maintain the UK’s processing capacity to meet the growing demand for British food.

Dutch-owned Vion, which has poultry operations in Eye, Witham and Basildon, as well as plants in Scotland and Wales, announced plans in November to exit the UK and sell its businesses here.

Vion UK bought the Grampian Country Food Group in 2008, and employed nearly 2,000 staff across the region, mainly at plants in Eye, Witham and Haverhill.

Its Eye poultry processing plant employs 449 staff, and its Witham poultry plant has 730. It also has about 350 staff employed across 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 has now sold its UK poultry and red meat operations to Boparan Holdings Limited (BHL), the holding company for 2 Sisters Food Group.

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A 2 Sisters spokeswoman said it was “still too early to say” how jobs might be affected as the deal was just signed.

Vion reached an agreement for a management buy-out of its UK pork operations in December, securing around 4,000 jobs, including 330 at Haverhill.

2 Sisters, previously not involved in the red meat sector, is one of the UK’s largest poultry meat processors.

Mr Kendall said since the Vion announcement, there had been “a degree of uncertainty” for farmer suppliers, so the sale would offer them some reassurance.

“The purchase will safeguard a key supply chain for high quality British beef, lamb and poultry and the NFU will be arranging a meeting with 2 Sisters to help build a profitable future for British livestock farmers,” he said.

“This development will help to maintain and improve the UK’s processing capacity and it is critical, following Tesco’s announcement to source 100% UK fresh chicken by July 2013, that the industry is able to respond to the growing demand for British sourced food.”

Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke said the move helped keep meat production in the UK at a critical time and safeguarded thousands of jobs.

Steve Murrells, Chief executive of Food Retail at the Co-operative, said it was “excellent news”.