C&C Group is to close its cider production site in Shepton Mallet, resulting in the loss of 127 jobs and bringing to an end more than 240 years of cidermaking in the Somerset town.

The supplier will move production of brands including Blackthorn and Olde English to its site in Clonmel, Tipperary, where flagship brand Magners (sold as Bulmers in Ireland) is made. At the same time, the business said it would close its production facility in Borrisoleigh, Ireland, with a further 54 jobs to be lost.

C&C Group blamed the decision on an “intensely competitive” trading environment in recent years, leading to downward pricing pressure and loss of contracts for private label water, which the company also produces.

But Unite, the trade union organisation that represents workers in Shepton Mallet, called C&C Group’s handling of the matter “Dickensian”, after staff members apparently found out about the site’s closure from media reports this morning and were briefed only this afternoon.

“We know our members work for a Dickensian and inflexible employer, which puts company profit for shareholders and company directors first and foremost,” said the union’s regional coordinating officer Steve Preddy.

“The company has used the media in a cynical way to pave the way for this bad news. Our members deserved much better. This is a grievous blow to the workforce, their families, the town and the Somerset economy.”

Although cidermaking will cease in Shepton Mallet, the site’s apple pulping operation will endure, with the processed fruit then shipped to Clonmel. Borrisoleigh will continue to be used as a transport and warehousing hub. C&C Group said the three sites were currently running at only 34% capacity; after the consolidation, Clonmel will run at 75%.

C&C Group has been hit by plummeting sales, with UK off-trade sales of its key brand Magners Original down 14% to £40.5m [Nielsen 52 w/e 10 October 2015]. In May last year, the company wrote down by €150m the value of its US cider business, Vermont Hard Cider Company, which it acquired in 2012 for €235m.