Ketchup maker Heinz, which is facing industrial action at its flagship UK site this evening, has defended its pay offer and said the business has to remain competitive.

Staff at the US food giant’s plant at Kitt Green in north-west England will strike for 24 hours from 21:50 tonight after rejecting the company’s pay offer.

Union officials have rejected Heinz’s “below-inflation” 3.3% increase this year and the company’s offer of a hike of 3% or at inflation as measured by the RPI next year, whichever is lower.

Heinz has said its proposals constituted “one of the best pay offers in the industry” and insisted the terms were equivalent to a 4% increase this year and a 3% increase next year. A spokesman told just-food today (15 December) that next year’s offer equated to an increase of 3.6% to 4.6% due to shift premiums.

However, staff are still set to walk out tonight, which unions claim will hit Christmas production.

Nevertheless, the Heinz spokesman said the company would still be supplying “plenty” of cans of bakes beans and soups and insisted the business could rely on other manufacturing sites in the UK and in Europe, if necessary.

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The spokesman also maintained that Heinz was ready to sit down with union officials to discuss the situation. “We’re here to protect the long-term future of the site and keep jobs at Kitt Green,” he said.