ONE of Chard’s largest employers has completed the purchase of a new factory in Wales as consultation continues over whether to shut its Somerset sites.

Oscar Mayer has announced the acquisition of David Wood Foods in Flint, North Wales, as well as plans to refurbish the site by Spring 2021.

The Oscar Mayer Group revealed in October that it would be carrying out a consultation with Chard’s 860 staff, and was considering shutting its Somerset sites over the next 12 months.

Employees in Chard were informed of the Flint deal in a letter which has been leaked to the Chard & Ilminster News.

In it, Oscar Mayer chief executive Francois Legrain said: “Although the Covid pandemic has led to reduced consumer demand overall, with more people finding time to cook from scratch at home, the meat-free alternative segment continues to enjoy significant growth, making this a strategically important sector for the group.

“Given the anticipated growth of the category over the next few years, and the increasing associated technical demands, we have been looking at ways to evolve our provision of meat-free meals.”

Oscar Mayer is planning to have a facility dedicated solely to meat-free meals.

Mr Legrain added: “Having reviewed all of our existing sites, we do not believe that any of them will be able to accommodate our longer-term ambitions for this sector.

“We looked hard at the upgrade opportunities for Chard but – given its underlying infrastructure issues – we believe none would afford us the most efficient and viable operations required for a solely meat-free environment.

“We also searched for an appropriate site in the Chard area, but none fitted the bill.

“We therefore searched for a site of an appropriate size to meet these demands and are pleased to have found Flint which, subject to an initial refurbishment, should be operational in Spring 2021.”

The purchase of the Flint site completed on Friday, November 27.

There is also a chance of workers leaving Chard to work at the refurbished Flint site.

A spokesman for Oscar Mayer said: “In the event that a final decision to close the Chard sites is made, all affected employees will be offered the opportunity to interview for jobs that may arise at each of our other sites – though of course that would require relocation which we recognise would be an upheaval for our colleagues and their families.

“However it is too early to tell exactly how many vacancies will exist across the group when Flint has been upgraded and is operational, let alone any concurrent openings in Wrexham and Erith.

Chief executive Francois Legrain added: “We will of course prioritise people who are currently at risk of redundancy in Chard for any opportunities arising from the acquisition and redevelopment of Flint, as well as any future expansion at our other sites.

“We were unable to let you know about this at the time of the Chard announcement due to a contractually enforced confidentiality agreement as specified by the current owner of Flint.

“The Covid situation has undoubtedly changed the ready-meal market, meaning that Oscar Mayer management is required to take decisive and proactive steps to maintain the long-term health of the group.”

The consultation period for Chard started on November 10, and is running for a minimum of 45 days consultation, after which a final decision on the future of Oscar Mayer in Chard will be made.

The company currently employs 860 people in Chard - all of which will be at risk of redundancy if Oscar Mayer leaves Somerset.

Francois Legrain said: “The sites are in need of refurbishment to future-proof their operation, yet such investment is considered to be neither practically nor financially viable given the existing configuration of the units.”