Haverhill: Vion secures sale deal on pork side of business, securing jobs, including its Haverhill plant

Dutch-based food producer Vion has reached an agreement for a management buy-out of its UK pork operations, securing around 4,000 jobs, including 330 at Haverhill, subject to Competition Authority approval in Ireland.

The sale deal which includes its Haverhill sliced meats operation, was led by Seamus Carr, managing director of its Pork Business Unit, and is backed by UK private equity firm Endless, an investor in UK companies across a wide range of sectors.

A deal has yet to be struck on its other non-pork operations, including at Eye and Witham.

Vion announced on November 19 that it was selling its UK food operations, employing in total 13,000 people at 38 sites, to focus on its core food activities in the Netherlands and Germany and its global ingredients business.

Discussions are ongoing with a number of prospective purchasers for Vion’s other UK business units for poultry and red meat.

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

It has its head office in Livingston, Scotland, and employs 13,000 people at 38 sites in the UK. Its Eye poultry processing plant employs 449 staff, and its Witham poultry processing plant, has 730 employees

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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 also has feed mills at Stoke Ferry, near King’s Lynn and at Chetisham, near Ely.

Vion’s UK pork facilities are located in Haverhill, Wiveliscombe, Malton, Scunthorpe, Hull, Stoke and Enfield in England, at Cookstown in Northern Ireland and the pig farming and feed mill operation in Scotland at Brydock, Aberdeenshire. In addition, it operates the McGees butchers business in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Carr, who will be managing director of the new company said: “Vion’s decision to sell its UK business naturally caused a degree of uncertainty amongst staff, suppliers and customers.

“Therefore, I’m very pleased that we have quickly been able to agree a deal for the pork business which secures the future for our staff, our suppliers and gives our customers a seamless transition.

“Our ambitions for the new business are firstly to maintain the excellent levels of service and product quality which have helped us secure orders from all the major supermarkets and then to build upon the opportunities in the marketplace to grow the business.”

Peter Barr, chairman of Vion UK, warmly welcomed the management buy-out. He said: “When we announced our intention to sell, we highlighted the viability of the UK businesses and the strong interest from prospective purchasers.

“The swiftness with which we’ve been able to agree a deal with the management team of the pork business unit, which knows the company inside-out, underlines our confidence in the sales process.

“It’s therefore very encouraging that the pork business unit should be the subject of a successful and swift sale and this augurs well for our ongoing discussions with prospective buyers of the remaining areas of the business.“

“This is the very best outcome and I am sure the response from everyone involved, from our farmers and suppliers, to our employees and customers, will be extremely positive.

“We will now be focusing our attentions on securing the sales of our remaining poultry and red meat operations in the UK, which employ around 8,000 people. Both businesses remain profitable and cash-generative and are generating significant interest from prospective purchasers.”

Endless is a specialist investor in UK headquartered businesses, widely known for acquiring non-core businesses from large groups. This is the latest in a string of investments in UK businesses that were previously owned by large, often overseas, parent groups including Crown Paints from Akzo Nobel N.V., Bathstore from Wolseley plc, Acenta Steel from Niagara LaSalle Inc, Davy Markham from TH Global and Amco Group from Billington Holdings plc.

A spokesman from Endless said: “We are delighted to have been selected by the MBO team to support their plans and aspirations for such a strategically important business in the UK food sector, with its focus on local produce at a time when end customers demands for British sourced food are increasing.”

Vion NV entered the UK in the late 1990s with the acquisition of Key Country Foods, followed by Tranfield and subsequently Grampian Country Food Group in 2008, supplying beef, lamb, pork and chicken products to a broad range of blue-chip customers across the food retailing, food manufacturing and food service sectors.

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