Britain’s hard-pressed food and drink manufacturing industry has received a much-needed boost with yogurt giant Müller getting the green light to almost double the size of its UK plant, creating around 300 jobs.

The announcement follows a torrid time for the sector since the start of the year.
Last week, Masterfoods Europe announced plans to axe 700 jobs in the UK, including 500 at its flagship Slough factory as part of a restructure of the European business.

Workers at Cussons’ Nottingham plant have already resigned themselves to the inevitable closure of the factory in 2007 as operations move to Thailand, while Princes is
considering proposals to shut its Kidlington juice factory and scale down activities at its soft drinks factory in Shieldhall, Glasgow, resulting in the total loss of some 200 jobs. Uniq this week added to the list of job casualties by revealing plans to slash around 450 jobs from its workforce, although most will be in mainland Europe.

However, a government inquiry has concluded that Müller should be allowed to add a new eight-and-a-half hectare development to its existing 12 hectare site located in the Shropshire countryside near Market Drayton.

The development, which is likely to set the company back more than £50m, is scheduled to be up and running by 2009 and could eventually double the company’s output, said UK MD Andrew Harrison.

Although the expansion is only likely to increase the existing 1,100-strong UK Müller workforce by just over a quarter, it will at least secure the Market Drayton site’s long-term future as the company’s UK base.

Government inspector David Richards has endorsed the company’s expansion plans as part of the emerging North Shopshire Local Plan.

Harrison said the company was confident that it had properly addressed the likely impact of its plans on the local area and will now submit detailed planning proposals in due course.

He said the company was also committed to working closely with the local district council and the local community to ensure that Müller produced a development that would be “an exemplar for the area”.

“The exact use for the new site has still not been decided,” added Harrison. “But it is a major long-term project for the strategic growth of the business.”
Simon Mowbray