Müller Milk & Ingredients’ Hanworth glass bottling plant is facing closure, with the potential loss of up to 162 jobs, following last week’s surprise sale of its doorstep delivery service Milk & More to Freshways Group.
Müller today confirmed it had launched a 45-day statutory collective consultation at the west London site “to assess future operational requirements” and review “the future viability” of the operation.
More than 95% of Hanworth’s bottled milk output is destined for Milk & More. However, Freshways had already “confirmed they will not require supply from Hanworth”, Müller said, confirming industry rumours that the site faced an uncertain future.
Milk & More’s shock offloading to Freshways followed a strategic review by Müller that concluded the business – which had been transformed into a modern, tech-focused DTC operation in recent years – no longer aligned with the dairy giant’s main focus as a B2B supplier of fresh milk, yoghurt and other dairy products.
The delivery service, despite its growth in recent years, was still loss-making, said Freshways MD Bali Nijjar last week. And while the the value of the sale was not disclosed, it is understood to have been sold to Freshways for a nominal fee.
The deal, which is due to complete on 1 January, includes all 31 of Milk & More’s sites, plus its back-office e-commerce operation, with all 1,100 staff transferring over to Freshways Group. However, the sale does not include the Hanworth site.
The bottling plant had been rescued from closure by Müller in 2016 after it announced big investment plans in more sustainable glass milk bottles and the wider Milk & More business. Hanworth boasts a long history of milk production, having first opened in 1847. It was also one of the UK’s first dairies to introduce pasteurisation, in 1912.
But in the wake of its purchase, Nijjar last week told The Grocer that the processor would now look to cheaper sources of glass bottles across the UK, in addition to introducing its own recyclable carton offering once it took over the running of Milk & More.
“Having worked with Freshways Group to understand their future requirements for Milk & More, it is with regret that we must now address potential extra capacity at our Hanworth site,” said Müller Milk & Ingredients CEO Rob Hutchison.
“We enter this process with a desire to fully understand the employee perspective and we will carefully consider all options before arriving at any decision on the future of the site.”