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Shropham factory to close

PUBLISHED: 08:00 21 May 2011

Watton Produce factory at Shropham.

Watton Produce factory at Shropham.

©Archant Photographic 2010

A vegetable producer has told workers its Norfolk factory will close and their jobs will be made redundant after efforts to save the business failed.

Watton Produce, which is based at Shropham, near Attleborough, broke the news to staff at a meeting last week.

Earlier this year, directors of the company carried out a review of the business including its customers, products and processes, because of economic pressures brought about by a “tough environment”.

But in a letter to workers, sent on Tuesday May 10, managing director Steve Navey said: “The directors have now concluded the strategic review and it is with regret [I have] to inform you that we have not been able to sell the business based at Shropham as a going concern, nor have we been able to establish a viable business model that allows us to continue to operate.

“Therefore you are being formally notified, as of today, that your role is redundant and your notice period has commenced.”

Watton Produce, which grows, packs and processes carrots and parsnips from sites in Shropham, the Moray Coast in Scotland and Andalucia in Spain, is believed to have employed about 40 members of staff directly and a further 150 through agencies at the Norfolk factory.

One member of staff, who did not want to be named, said the company had approached its customers in recent months – including a number of supermarkets – to say that prices would need to raised, but they refused the increases.

The worker added: “Escalating fuel costs affect everything we do, from growing, harvesting and packing all the way through to transport to store.

“When the prices you pay go up and the supermarkets say they want to cut the price they pay you the options are limited. You struggle for as long as you can but eventually you have to call it quits.”

Watton Produce has transferred some of its supply contracts to a third party but it has not bought the site, business or any assets and therefore will not automatically take on any staff.

Workers will receive redundancy payments and are due to be told individually what notice period they will be expected to work.

In his letter Mr Navey added: “This has been a difficult and slow process for both the directors and our staff but we can assure you that this was due to every effort on our part to try and safeguard your employment by unfortunately we have not been able to do so.”

He said management “deeply regretted” the decision but it had proven “unavoidable”.

Last night the company confirmed the Shropham site would be closing on economic grounds but said it would be “unprofessional” to comment further.

The site in Moray has been sold as a going concern. No information was available on the future of the site at Andalucia.

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