Squash maker cutting home town ties

Robinson's squash maker Britvic is to close its factory in the city where it was founded in the 19th century under plans to axe up to 400 jobs.

The group is cutting its ties with Chelmsford in Essex, where it was founded by a Victorian chemist making soft drinks, by closing a Fruit Shoot and J20 fruit drinks factory with about 230 job losses.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
It is also shutting its Pennine Spring water factory in Huddersfield with 40 job losses and closing a warehouse in Belfast employing 20 staff under the plans to merge its UK and Irish operations - which will result in 300 to 400 job losses.

The soft drinks giant announced cost cuts totalling £30 million over three years as it reported a 50% surge in pre-tax profits to £37.5 million for the 28 weeks to mid-April. It said the cuts aim to improve returns for shareholders and comes ahead of a Competition Commission decision on its merger with Irn-Bru owner AG Barr, expected by July. It will then decide whether to go ahead with the deal.

Britvic last year moved its headquarters from Chelmsford to Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire and said remaining office staff will transfer to its new site, ending about 150 years' association with the city.

Britvic, which takes its name from its predecessor the British Vitamin Products Company, has started a consultation with staff and the sites will close in the first quarter of next year.

The Chelmsford factory was built in 1954 and makes soft drinks in cans, glass and plastic bottles. Work will transfer from there to other sites in the UK, Ireland and France. It also has major operations in east London, Norwich and Leeds.

The Huddersfield site and natural spring was acquired by Britvic in 2004 from lemonade maker Ben Shaw's, and bottles water under the Drench and Pennine Spring brands. A spokeswoman said Britvic will focus on Ballygowan, its Irish water brand.

Chief executive Simon Litherland said: "We regret the potential loss of jobs caused by the change and are committed to supporting affected employees. I am confident that the execution of this strategy will build a more successful Britvic and lead to a much stronger financial performance."

The job cuts came as Britvic announced a slight increase in revenues to £639.2 million for the six months. The group hailed a significant turnaround amid tough consumer markets, as price hikes helped compensate for weaker volumes.

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