Jobs blow at Bernard Matthews

Posted on 5 Feb 2010 by The Manufacturer

Turkey foods producer Bernard Matthews is to make 160 people redundant from its Great Witchingham plant near Norwich.

The move is part of an efficiency drive which will see the company’s frozen whole bird operation move to another site in Holton, Suffolk.

“We are two years into a four-year strategy to return the business to profitable growth and while the company’s results are moving in the right direction, we are still far from the levels of returns the business should be making,” said Jeff Halliwell, Bernard Matthews UK managing director.

He said that the whole-bird part of the business is currently unprofitable and the move and redundancies are the only alternative to exiting that particular market.

The firm’s fortunes have dwindled in recent years, mirroring the popularity of processed turkey products. In 2007 it made an operating loss of £9.6m. The following year it marginally returned to a profit of £857,000, though a turnover exceeding £335m suggests its problems remain.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver led a damning crusade against one of the firm’s products – Turkey Twizzlers – on his Jamie’s School Dinners television programme in 2005. He described the product as “cheap, processed junk food” and claimed they hold very little nutritional value and high levels of fat. His campaign was successful when Scolarest – dinner supplier to around 2,000 state schools – banned Twizzlers from its menus.

Last month the man that founded the eponymous company retired from the firm he founded on a shoe string budget in 1950, at the age of just 20.

The move of the whole-bird operation from Great Witchingham to Holton will be completed by early next year.

It is the second piece of bad news for Norfolk’s food and drink industry this week after Bird’s Eye decided to cut 180 pea growers – with turnover totalling £5m – from its supply chain. Many of these are based in East Anglia.

Bird’s Eye blamed the loss of a contract with Findus to supply peas for the latter’s ready meals.