Hovis maker Premier Foods plc is planning to close its CHANDLER‘s Ford distribution depot in Hampshire amid falling sales of own-label bakery products.

Premier, the UK’s largest food group, said today (7 March) that it could boost efficiency by “rationalising” its operations on the south coast of England.

“As well as making the iconic Hovis brand, we also manufacture a range of retailer-branded bread and other bakery products. During 2010 we continued to grow sales of Hovis; however, we saw a decline in these other areas,” a spokesperson said.

“The overall impact of this has been a reduction in volume that has prompted a review of our distribution arrangements. This showed that we can operate more efficiently by rationalising our operations on the south coast which is why we are proposing to close our depot at Chandler’s Ford.”

Premier announced its 2010 results last month and the numbers from its Hovis division included a 1.7% increase in sales of branded bakery products to GBP376m (US$608.9m). Sales of retailer-brand bakery fell 22.1% to GBP140m.

Around 60 staff are employed at the site and, although the spokesperson said it was “too early” to speculate about the precise effect on jobs, he said it “regretted the impact this will have on our people”. A consultation process with staff and union representatives has started.

Last month,. Premier said it would introduce automated technology at its Hovis bakery in Avonmouth, with job losses expected.