ANM shuts meat plants with loss of 50 jobs

THE continuing decline in cattle and sheep numbers in Scotland claimed another victim yesterday when Inverurie-based ANM Group announced the closure of two meat processing plants in the north with the loss of almost 50 jobs.

The farmer-owned business, which owns Aberdeen & Northern Marts, is closing Scotch Premier Meat's lamb slaughter plant at Dornoch, which it bought out of receivership ten years ago, and Highland Country Foods' meat processing unit at Forres.

The Dornoch plant has 29 staff and 18 are employed at Forres, which produces 800 tonnes of cooked meat and bacon a year.

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Lamb slaughtering is to be transferred to Scotch Premier's Inverurie abattoir where a 400,000 investment is being made to upgrade the plant. Most of the Forres business will move to another ANM Group company, Charcuterie Continental, at Twechar, near Glasgow.

ANM Group's last published accounts show that Scotch Premier made a loss of 198,000 in 2008 and Charcuterie Continental was 149,000 in the red. Highland Foods recorded a more modest loss of 18,000. Scotch Premier made a profit of 379,000 in 2007 but the other two companies have proved loss-making since being acquired by ANM in 2004.

New chief executive Alan Craig was brought in last April with a remit to bring the meat division back into profit and has already acted to cut costs at Scotch Premier with the departure of three members of the management team. Sheffield-based Andy Tucker, managing director of another group company, Yorkshire Premier Meat, has been given overall responsibility for the meat division.

Craig said the rationalisation was designed to maintain the "strongest possible core" in the face of declining livestock numbers and a highly competitive market.

"The only way a business such as ours can continue to prosper in today's trading environment is by being smarter and fitter than our competitors," Craig said. "We have a strong financial base, committed producer support, top class products and a highly skilled staff. These are the qualities which will keep us moving forward but only if we make the right decisions on how the business is structured and operated."

Craig said it was regrettable that jobs would be lost but as many as possible of those affected would be given the opportunity to move to other ANM plants. Where this was not practical, the company would do everything possible to help staff find alternative employment.

The Dornoch plant handles large numbers of lambs from Aberdeenshire and Moray as well as from the Highlands. The company is considering the operation of a collection centre at Dornoch for the convenience of Highland farmers consigning lambs to Inverurie.

The company has also imposed a wage freeze throughout the group, which employs more than 500 staff. Group trading profit in 2008 was 909,000 – little more than half the record figure of 1.7 million achieved in 2007.