Oscar Mayer, a manufacturer of private-label ready-meals for UK food retailers, has entered consultations with staff over the proposed closure of its plant in Chard, south-west England.

The business plans to wind-down the facility in Somerset over the next 12 months as demand for ready-meals has waned during the pandemic, with people eating at home because of Covid-19-linked restrictions on dining out.

Production would be switched to one of its other two plants, one run by Rowan Foods in Wrexham, Wales, and the other operated by Ferndale Foods in Kent, also in south-west England.

Oscar Mayer’s 860 workers at the Chard plant – the smallest of the three factories – along with customers and suppliers, were informed of the consultation process yesterday (22 October), with all those staff now facing redundancy, the company said in a statement.

Consultations will start on 10 November for a minimum of 45 days, after which a final decision on the future of the Chard site will be made.

Oscar Mayer said it had considered developing an alternative facility in Millfield, near Chard, but has decided that option is not “feasible for the company’s future needs”.

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CEO Francois Legrain said: “Consulting our colleagues on a potential closure has been a desperately difficult decision to come to. We believe we have exhausted every avenue to continue future production at Chard, and currently we are unable to see a way to make the economics of this site work in such a challenging market.

“Oscar Mayer fully recognises its responsibility to the local community and sincerely regrets the distress and disappointment this move may cause.

“Until any decision is finalised, we are determined to continue to provide the highest standard of production to meet our valued customers’ demands.”

During the summer, the Rowan Foods’ factory in Wrexham saw more than 30 workers infected by coronavirus.