OVER 300 jobs are at risk after Midlands Co-op's announcement that it is to sell its long-established dairy business to Dairy Crest for an undisclosed sum.
The "reluctant" deal ? likely to be completed later this month ? ends months of discussion and speculation and, says the society, has been forced on them because of the need to spend £ 25 million on a new milk processing operation to replace or upgrade its ageing plant in the Nechells area of Birmingham.
A society statement said a range of options had been discussed before Dairy Crest emerged as the only serious bidder. The business, which employs 730 people and has 200 delivery franchisees, is being sold intact. But there are fears the new owners will close the Nechells plant with the loss of 330 jobs.
Three Oxfordshire depots may also be affected, but it is understood Dairy Crest will re-locate most of the 60 staff within their own business to minimise job losses.
Chief Executive Willie Tucker told the News: "Our dairy business has continued to operate successfully, but this success would be impossible to maintain without major capital investment. The decision was made ultimately in the interests of the rest of the business."
The society supplies 167,000 pints of milk per day to 125,000 customers and the proposed sell-off follows a trend within the Movement.
Last year, the Co-operative Group sold Associated Co-operative Creameries to Dairy Farmers of Britain and the farmers' co-operative also acquired Lincolnshire Co-op's dairy business last month.