Unilever takes flight from Euro frozen foods business

CONSUMER GOODS group Unilever is planning to close the majority of its European frozen foods businesses, including Birds Eye, which employs about 700 people at sites in Lowestoft, Suffolk and 600 in Hull, East Yorkshire.

A shock profit warning issued in September 2004 left Unilever seeking ways to revive the business. The firm began a strategic review of its European frozen foods business which had a turnover of about €2billion last year. The Birds Eye brands include a range of frozen chicken and red meat products. In total 3,500 people work for the company's Birds Eye and Iglo brands. Frozen foods businesses in Italy will not be affected as the company said this remained a "strategic priority."

At the same time as the closures were announced, the company annual profits had risen to 28 per cent to €4.75bn (£3.26bn) and turnover was up three per cent to €39.6bn, while like-for-like sales climbed 3.1 per cent. Group Chief Executive, Patrick Cescau said deciding to put the majority of their European frozen food business up for sale had been a tough call. "However, although we have made great progress in increasing proftability, in recent years, growth has been harder to come by. After an exhaustive review we have decided that the best way for us to create value is by selling the majority of the European frozen food businesses," he said. The Transport and General Workers Union, which has 650 members at the Lowestoft site, said the news that Unilever had put up the 'for sale' notice was a matter of profound concern. "The Lowestoft factory has attracted a loyal work force which now faces an unsettling and uncertain wait," said Brian Revell, T&G national organiser for food and agriculture."