Campaign launched to save historic Norwich brands Colman's and Britvic - and we need your backing
PUBLISHED: 08:09 04 October 2017 | UPDATED: 08:44 05 October 2017
A rallying cry today goes out to save two of the region's biggest employers and most famous names.
Unions, MPs and this newspaper have come together to fight for the future of factories which produce Colman’s Mustard and Robinsons squash, whose potential closure puts more than 350 jobs at risk.
It comes after Britvic announced proposals to move production of juice and squash from Norwich, leading Colman’s owner Unilever, which shares its site at Carrow Works, to launch a review into its own future in the city.
Today we launch a petition, backed by politicians and unions, calling on the companies to reconsider the future of the sites.
Colman’s has been closely associated with Norwich and Norfolk for more than 200 years while the Robinsons brand has been produced on the site since 1925.
David Powles, editor of the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News, said: “We are launching this campaign today because these two factories are simply too important to lose.
“They form a crucial part of this county’s history as well as providing a livelihood for hundreds of workers at the factory and in the supply chains.
“We want readers to back our campaign and send a clear message: They must be saved.”
At midday on Wednesday the petition had already gathered more than 3,000 signatures from people urging the companies to reconsider.
Clive Lewis, MP for the Norwich South constituency which includes the site, backed the campaign as did his Norwich North counterpart Chloe Smith.
Mr Lewis said: “Jobs in manufacturing are hard to come by in Norwich and this is going to be a blow, but it is not a done deal.
“Britvic in particular said no decision would be made prior to consultation, and I am going to hold them to that, as I am sure the local authorities and trade unions will.”
He challenged the government to play its part in keeping the factories in Norfolk.
“They are spending money in other parts of the country like the North East to keep jobs. If they can do that elsewhere, let’s see if that can do the same in Norwich – it is just as important.”
The unions Unite and GMB have also given their support to the petition.
Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy said: “The iconic Colman’s Mustard has been produced at the same factory since the 1860s.
“Unite will not only be seeking assurances, but applying pressure with the support of the local community, that the production and the much-needed jobs that are vital for the Norwich economy remain. Anything else won’t cut the mustard.”
Soft drinks giant Britvic said its 242 employees at the site would be offered opportunities at other sites and services to help find alternative employment.
The plant is expected to close towards the end of 2019, following a consultation.
Britvic chief executive Simon Litherland said the proposed changes would “present significant productivity and efficiency savings” in its manufacturing operations and deliver “environmental benefits”.
“Britvic is proud to be a British manufacturer and Norwich has been an important site for our business for many years.
“This is not a proposal that we make lightly and we know this is upsetting news for our colleagues,” he said.
“We are very grateful for the hard work and dedication of our employees at our Norwich factory and this announcement is in no way a reflection on their performance or commitment.”
Britvic’s GB managing director Paul Graham said production of lines such as Robinsons squash and Fruit Shoot would switch to sites in Rugby, Leeds and London in a move to reduce costs.
He said increasing customer demand for premium and sugar-free drinks, which were better produced at other sites, was also a factor in the decision to launch a consultation.
Following Britvic’s announcement, Unilever, which has owned Colman’s Mustard since 1995, revealed it would review the viability of its production at the co-owned site – where it employs 113 people.
The company said: “Britvic and Unilever’s operations have been uniquely intertwined at the site for many years, relying on a shared infrastructure.
“Although no decisions have been made, we need to recognise that Britvic’s proposed withdrawal would have serious implications for Unilever in Norwich.”
It said it recognised the importance of the historical connection with Norwich, and promised to work hard to retain the link whatever the outcome.
Sign the petition
A petition has been launched by the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News to save Britvic and Unilever’s Norwich factory.
Soft drinks manufacturer Britvic have announced plans to close their factory in Bracondale, putting more than 200 jobs at risk.
The plant is expected to close towards the end of 2019, following a consultation with affected staff.
In the wake of this announcement, the maker of Colman’s Mustard has also said it could close its factory on the site they share with Britvic.
This paper says: “Britvic and Unilever are a crucial part of the city and county’s manufacturing base and economy. Robinsons, one of Britvic’s brands, has been based in Norwich for more than 90 years, while Unilever produces arguably Norwich and Norfolk’s most iconic brand, Colman’s Mustard, made in the city for more than 200 years.
“These are products and jobs that must remain in Norwich where they belong.”
To sign the petition - called ‘Keep Britvic and Unilever’s Norwich factories open’ - go click here.
Analysis by business editor Mark Shields
Britvic and Colman’s can look back at nearly 300 years of collective history in Norwich – but the reasons behind their departures are very much of the moment.
Manufacturing costs have risen in the past 18 months, as the devalued pound has made imports more expensive, while labour costs have grown. Businesses uncertain about Britain’s post-Brexit future are also cautious.
In its third-quarter trading update in the summer, Britvic said that its still drinks division – which includes the Norwich factory – had seen volumes increase, but revenue decrease. In short, the company was selling more for less, driven by an aggressive competition.
Unilever too has been watching its costs,
since the failed £115bn takeover from Kraft Heinz in February, eager to show shareholders it could improve profitability.
Britvic’s move may have forced Unilever’s hand, but in a sector where margins are so tight, sentiment ultimately counts for little.