Unilever Bestfoods Ireland, a unit of Anglo-Dutch food and consumer products giant Unilever, has announced that it is to close its HB ice cream plant at Rathfarnham early next year, leading to the loss of 180 jobs.

The company said the decision followed a strategic review of sourcing and cost levels across Unilever's European ice cream business, where changing consumer taste, technological advancement and greater product harmonisation have created significant manufacturing over-capacity.

Unilever said that the decision would have no impact on the range of HB ice cream sold in the local market and that the company intends to explore appropriate options which will enable it to continue the manufacture of selected products in Ireland through a joint venture arrangement.

The managing director of Unilever Bestfoods Ireland, Paul Murphy, said that it was no longer possible for an ice cream manufacturing plant such as the one at Rathfarnham to compete successfully with larger scale and more specialist Unilever plants located elsewhere on the continent. Despite HB being Ireland's leading ice cream brand, Murphy said that continued growth in demand for HB's locally produced products was insufficient to sustain a plant of the Rathfarnham plant’s size and further restructuring would not deliver the necessary savings to make it viable.

Unilever informed staff at the plant of the decision yesterday [Thursday]. SIPTU, the union that represents many workers at the plant, slammed the decision. The union's food branch secretary Brian O'Neill was quoted as saying by Business and Finance Daily News Service that he was "bitterly disappointed" by the plant's management.