Norwich’s proud historical ties to the UK’s beloved Colman’s Mustard brand – dating back more than 200 years when it was first produced in the outskirts of the city – may be severed after a soft drinks firm today (October 3) announced it would pull out of a factory now shared with Colman’s owners Unilever.
Drinks firm Britvic said today that it would transfer production of Robinsons and Fruit Shoot from its Norwich site to other sites in east London, Leeds and Rugby and would pull out of the factory co-owned by Unilever by 2019.
The move by Britvic will result in 242 job losses, of which 32 are Unite engineering and maintenance members.
Unilever has said in response that it would now review the future of its business at the factory.
The Unilever part of the site has about 60 workers belonging to the GMB union, with Unite representing 10 engineering workers.
Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy said that the “the sad news that Britvic is closing its operations in Norwich also has an impact on Unilever workers who the share the same site.
“This is very painful news for our members and their families at Britvic and we will be giving the maximum support to our members at what is a very difficult time in the days and weeks ahead,” he added.
“Unilever has today announced a review of the whole site to be concluded by the end of November. Everything is up for review including expanding its operations, selling part of the site and, more worryingly, closure.
“The iconic Colman’s Mustard has been produced at the same factory since the 1860s,” he noted.
The Colman’s brand has been based in Norfolk decades before then, when Jeremiah Colman first started a flour and mustard business outside of Norwich in 1814.
A Unilever spokesperson said today that while closure of the factory is one option, the company will take into account the historical link between the iconic brand and Norwich as it makes its decision.
But Unilever’s desire to appease shareholders, especially after it ducked a £115bn Kraft Heinz takeover bid, is strong now, which could be cause for concern over the Norwich site’s future. In April, Unilever announced it would offload its UK-based spreads business, which includes household names such as Flora and Bertolli.
McCarthy said Unite will stand with both Britvic and Unilever workers as well as the local community.
“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,” he said. “Anything else won’t cut the mustard.”
“The whole of Norfolk needs to come together to fight for the future of Colman’s Mustard that is so identified with the city of Norwich. Colman’s is in the DNA of the city.”
The community is rallying behind the Colman’s factory too, with the Eastern Daily Press and the Evening News today (October 3) launching a campaign and petition.
Unite national officer for the food and drink sector Julia Long praised the campaign.
“Britvic and Unilever are vital to the economy of Norwich and the prosperity of the local community,” she said.
“Unite is 100 per cent committed to the campaign to save both production lines and applauds the swift response of the Eastern Daily Press and the Evening News in launching the campaign that will bring together all those interested in the welfare of Norfolk to combat the threatened job losses,” she added.
“Unite will liaise with the city council, Norfolk’s MPs, business leaders, trade unions and civic society to save these important manufacturing sites.
Local Labour MP for Norwich South Clive Lewis also pledged his support, saying on Twitter, “I will do all I can to save jobs.”
Stay tuned on UNITElive as this story develops.