Bernard Matthews proposes closure of turkey factory in Norfolk, putting 600 jobs at risk

  • Raveena Ghattaura reports on Bernard Matthews' financial difficulties

Up to 600 jobs have been put at risk at poultry meat firm Bernard Matthews Farms, after the company announced proposals to close a major site following another year of losses.

The Norfolk-based brand lost £10m last year, and said there were "huge challenges facing our sector" on the back of £25m losses the year before.

It is proposing to close its processing plant in Great Witchingham, Norfolk, which employs around 600 people.

A union representing workers on the site described the plans as "devastating" and said it would be supporting its members.

A Bernard Matthews spokesman said the cooked meats site was "not a sustainable operation".

"Despite investment in recent years and our efforts to secure more business, it is still loss-making and not commercially viable," he said.

He said workers at Great Witchingham would be offered other roles at its site in Holton, Suffolk.

The company said it was in talks with workers to "explore the full range of options before making any final decisions".

Bernard Matthews also has plants in Attleborough and Thetford in Norfolk, and Flixton and Eye in Suffolk.

Unite regional officer Mark Jaina said: “The potential closure of the Bernard Matthews’ site in Great Witchingham is devastating news for its workers and the local area.

"Unite will be offering support to our members at this difficult time.  

“We will now be entering consultations with Bernard Matthews and will ensure our members’ best interests are the priority.”  

A Turkey Twizzler statue at Great Witchingham Hall in Norfolk, where Bernard Matthews began as a company. Credit: PA

The brand was founded by Bernard Trevor Matthews in 1950, when he bought 20 eggs and a second-hand incubator.

By 1955, demand was so great that he bought Great Witchingham Hall in Norfolk to rear and prepare his turkeys.

He is thought to have revolutionised the turkey market, making the meat more affordable and widely available.

By the 1960s, Mr Matthews had become the biggest turkey farmer in Europe.

The company was bought by entrepreneur Ranjit Singh Boparan in 2016. It now employs more than 2,000 people.

Bernard Matthews and his wife, Joyce, holding a 35 lb oven ready Christmas turkey in 1964 Credit: PA

The company Bernard Matthews was the subject of Channel 4's Dispatches investigation in December, which appeared to find food safety failings at its Holton factory.

Undercover journalists, who had secured jobs at the plant, allegedly found workers falsifying safety check results on frozen foods and poor hygiene.

A spokesman from Bernard Matthews said the company “wholeheartedly rejects the central thrust of this proposed Dispatches programme and condemns the tactics it employs”.

He continued: “The facts are clear. Our products are safe: our independent five-day investigation says they’re safe and our regulator says they’re safe."

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