Relief for 600 workers in £182m factory sale

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PREMIER Foods’ Long Sutton site is set to be snapped up by food giant Princes – which promises to keep the factory’s 600 workers on.

Princes has entered into a conditional agreement with Premier over a £182million purchase of its canning operations in both Long Sutton and Wisbech.

Princes, which has nine other large food and drink production sites across the country, says the purchase will be to expand its business and it has no plans to reduce the 600-strong workforce.

A spokesman said: “Princes doesn’t have any plans to reduce the head count of the business.

“The acquisition brings new products to Princes such as canned soups and baked beans – it is part of the company’s plans to grow its operations.”

In November we reported that Premier Foods was looking to sell off its East Anglian canning operations and Princes was widely rumoured to be the likely buyer.

If the deal goes through the Crosse & Blackwell, Fray Bentos and Farrow’s brands would be owned by Princes while Branston and Batchelors would remain under Premier Foods’ ownership but licenced to Princes on a long-term deal for the production of the items handled by the Long Sutton and Wisbech sites.

These products include Branston baked beans and Batchelors canned soups.

Princes managing director Ken Critchley said: “This proposed acquisition is an excellent strategic fit for our group.

“It would expand Princes’ branded portfolio in the canned foods sector and increase the company’s range of customer own label and branded products.”

The money from the sell-off will be used by Premier Foods to pay off debts.

In a statement to the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday, Robert Schofield, Chief Executive Officer at Premier Foods, said: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement to sell our canned grocery operations. As a predominantly non-branded business, it has not been an area of focus for us.

“Selling the business simplifies our operations and allows us to concentrate our efforts on our current portfolio of great British brands.

“Combined with the proposed disposal of our meat-free business, we will have delivered total gross proceeds of £387m, significantly accelerating the delivery of our financial strategy.”

Unite senior shop steward Paul Pearce said Princes’ interest was probably one of the “worst kept secrets around”. He said workers were still waiting for the detail of the move to become clear.