Wigan’s gigantic food canning plant has been given a multi-million pound boost as part of the parent company’s plans to increase output.
The £20m investment by Kraft Heinz in its Kitt Green site is seen as a major endorsement by bosses for staying and even expanding in the borough. The size of the workforce has reduced over the years from the many thousands who once worked there to the current 850, but Heinz remains one of Wigan’s biggest employers.
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In years past there had been fears that it might ship out altogether if bosses in the US - who had had several stand-offs with unions over working conditions - felt they could get their products made more cheaply and with less trouble on mainland Europe.
But since Heinz’s merger with Kraft three years ago, there appears to have been renewed commitment in Wigan.
Under what is called Project Darwin, Heinz plans to enhance the factory lines for its canned baked beans, soups, spaghetti and its Snap Pots at what is already the world’s biggest food canning operation.
The Kitt Green factory first opened in 1959 (having already been operating since before the war in Standish), and has seen constant investment and development to keep up with the changing demands of the food supply chain. This has accelerated since Heinz’s global merger with Kraft in 2015, with the site attracting a total of £113.6m since.
The new investment of £20m has been spent on modernising the filling and packaging operations, including a high-speed line that is able to fill 1,200 cans of beans and soups a minute, a high-speed weigh filling line and a triple-pack can packaging line.
Stuart Lawswon, manufacturing director at the Wigan factory, said the investment boost was being used to increase production in the one area that was growing significantly for Heinz: convenience.
He said: “It will give us further growth potential of 5.5 million units and allow us to produce almost 80 million Snap Pots a year.”
He added: “The new owners are more receptive than the legacy business to invest in modernising the site.”
The site has also recently seen investment into automated guided vehicles and improving the can making lines. The factory puts out 383,000 tonnes of products every year.
The news has been welcomed by unions as a positive sign that business is here to stay in Wigan.
Unite national officer for the food industry Sue Pollard said: “The £20m-plus investment by Heinz at its Wigan plant is a substantial boost to the local economy at what are economically challenging times.
“The investment programme has been welcomed by Unite, as a vote of confidence in the site’s long-term future. Unite looks forward to a constructive relationship with the Heinz management in the months and years ahead.”
The Leader of the council, Coun David Molyneux said: “This is fantastic news for Wigan Borough and shows why we are a major player in the creation of a Northern Powerhouse.
"Major investments in the borough are crucial to the local economy and will enable our local residents to access good quality jobs and new opportunities, and Heinz has always been a big part of that.”