Factories’ future in doubt as meat firm sells UK operation

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CITY analysts expect meat rivals and private equity to weigh up bids for parts rather the whole of the Vion UK meat empire, which is being sold by its Dutch owners.

Vion is quitting the UK market to focus on the Netherlands and Germany. The looming sale poses a threat to Yorkshire, where Vion has major factories including a bacon plant in Malton.

Debt-laden Vion said interest in its UK pork, red meat and poultry businesses has been strong, and it is confident of selling the divisions as “ongoing viable businesses”.

But unions said the sale has created uncertainty for Vion’s 13,000 workers based at 38 UK locations.

Vion employs 1,572 staff in its plant in Malton, North Yorkshire, 500 in its Scunthorpe pork factory and 169 workers at a sausage and burger plant in Hull.

“Staff are particularly concerned and this type of announcement gives them nothing other than stress,” said John Gorle, national officer at the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. He added the Malton site is “much-modernised and progressive”.

Meat producers are struggling as a poor harvest and drought in the US forces feed prices up.

Analysts at Panmure Gordon stockbrokers said “we would expect industry players and private equity alike to be at least running the slide rule over some of the more attractive assets”.

Other major meat producers include Tulip, Cranswick, Morrisons, 2 Sisters and Danish Crown.

Panmure added: “We would expect Cranswick and Hilton, amongst others, as well invested, highly efficient meat processors, to be the beneficiaries over the long-term as supermarkets seek security and surety of supply.”

Pork firm Cranswick, which is building a pastry plant near Vion’s Malton factory, declined to comment. Malton MP Anne McIntosh is due to visit the plant.