Vion sale: 'Good prospects' for finding UK food business buyer

Vion employs about 2,300 people in Scotland

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Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney believes there are "good prospects" for the sale of Vion's UK plants, but urged the firm to find a buyer "quickly".

Dutch food producer Vion NV is to sell its UK food businesses, which include 12 premises in Scotland.

Vion UK has its head office in Livingston and employs 13,000 people at 38 sites in the UK.

Mr Swinney said the Scottish government would talk to interested parties about taking on the company's assets.

Vion's businesses in the UK include Key Country Foods, Tranfield and Grampian Country Food Group, which it acquired in 2008.

The company supplies beef, lamb, pork and chicken products to the food retailing, food manufacturing and food service sectors.

It employs some 2,300 people in Scotland, including about 1,000 at a poultry processing plant in Coupar Angus.

'Core markets'

A further 400 people are employed at a cooked chicken plant in Cambuslang, 130 at a feedmill based at Strath of Brydock, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire, while the McIntosh Donald red meat plant at Portlethen, near Aberdeen, has about 280 staff.

Approximately 50 people work at the company's headquarters in Livingston.

Vion NV said the sale would allow it to focus on "core markets in the Netherlands and Germany" and develop its "global ingredients business".

Start Quote

It is so important to the Scottish food sector, the Scottish agricultural sector and for the employees that are involved in each of these plants around the country that we move quickly to conclude a sale”

End Quote John Swinney Scottish Finance Secretary

The firm recently began the closure of Hall's of Broxburn in West Lothian. The meat processing plant is due to close by February with the loss of 1,700 jobs.

Mr Swinney had earlier said the announcement of the sale of UK plants was "extremely disappointing" and would lead to a "particularly worrying time" for Vion employees.

But he told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday that Vion's latest announcement was "different" to the closure of Hall's of Broxburn.

"The company essentially started the Hall's of Broxburn process on the premise that it was consulting about plant closure," he said.

"The company has essentially put its businesses up for sale and there's a fundamental difference between these two processes."

He said Vion had made a "fundamental mistake" with the size and scale of Hall's of Broxburn.

Mr Swinney said it could have had a future as a "800 to 900-employee company, rather than the 1,700-employee company that Vion were trying to take forward".

He said the plants involved in the latest sale supplied major retail chains within the UK and further afield.

And he stressed the importance of finding buyers quickly to give some stability to the marketplace and some certainty to the employees.

Halls plant Vion has begun the closure of Hall's of Broxburn in West Lothian, with the loss of 1,700 jobs

"It is so important to the Scottish food sector, the Scottish agricultural sector and for the employees that are involved in each of these plants around the country, that we move quickly to conclude a sale process that will deliver some continuity in the marketplace," he added.

Peter Barr, chairman of Vion UK, said interest in the businesses had been "strong".

He added: "We have already started detailed discussions with a number of interested parties, including management, regarding the acquisition of the various parts of the UK business and these are progressing well.

"The sale process will be completed in a smooth and orderly fashion to ensure business continuity for our employees, agricultural and other suppliers and our customers."

The Unite union said the sale had created "massive uncertainty" for thousands of staff in the UK.

National officer Julia Long said: "It's time for management to sit down with the union and discuss its plans for the future.

"We believe the workforce deserves assurances on job security and that any new buyer commits to maintaining current UK employment levels."

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