Birmingham & Black Country

Chocolate takeover - one year on

Irene Rosenfeld
Image caption Kraft chairman and chief executive, Irene Rosenfeld, visited Bournville last October

Unions at Cadbury say they are still concerned about the long-term future of chocolate making in the Midlands.

A year after the controversial takeover by US food giant Kraft, workers are still in the dark about future plans for Bournville in Birmingham and two other plants in the Midlands area.

Twelve months ago today, attempts by Cadbury to fend off a hostile takeover from Kraft finally failed, when the US company increased its offer, making it more attractive to shareholders.

The Cadbury board was forced to advise its shareholders to accept the deal which valued the company at £11.5bn.

But what should have been a text book takeover turned into a PR disaster when Kraft management announced the closure of Cadbury's Somerdale factory near Bristol.

The company had previously pledged to keep it open.

'Manufacturing commitment'

A Parliamentary hearing that followed extracted an apology with Kraft executive vice president Marc Firestone stating that he was personally "very sorry" about the closure.

In the months after the takeover there were concerns about jobs losses at Cadbury's other plants, although thus far there have been very few.

During the year, Kraft gave a commitment to keep the remaining manufacturing plants open for at least two years.

Some jobs have been lost at Cadbury's corporate HQ in Uxbridge and more will go soon when Kraft's UK head office in Cheltenham closes.

There was also criticism that Kraft chairman and chief executive Irene Rosenfeld had not visited any of the company's UK factories. But last October she finally came to Bournville.

Image caption Unite says it wants brand production to stay in the second city

Speaking to the BBC at the time she said: "I actually wanted to wait until we were able to look ahead. For a long time there was a lot of discussion about the past."

But despite Rosenfeld's high-profile visit, union officials maintain there is still a lot of uncertainty.

Joe Clarke, a regional officer at the union Unite, said: "It's normal when a business is taken over for there to be a honeymoon period and day-to-day business to continue.

"I'm more concerned about the brand and the continuation of this brand being produced in Birmingham."

However, new management did make some commitments during the year.

When Ms Rosenfeld visited Bournville, she confirmed plans to create a "Centre for Chocolate Excellence" at the site.

The creation of the centre will see Kraft employees move from Germany with a multi-million pound investment at the plant.

Kraft maintains that the investment will mean Bournville remains the "heart and soul" of chocolate making.

Joe O'Shea, director of chocolate development for Kraft, said: "We have business all around the world, but all of the new product development, all of the delicious treats that we sell, will be invented here in Bournville."

Overall, a year after the takeover not much seems to have changed at Cadbury plants in the Midlands.

Most workers admit that it has been business as usual.

An integration plan that is bringing Kraft and Cadbury together is expected to be complete in June this year.

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