200 jobs set to go as cookie factory crumbles

After 70 years, the makers of a classic Kiwi biscuit are leaving Lower Hutt.

Griffin's Foods Ltd announced yesterday it would close its Lower Hutt factory - at a loss of 200 jobs - relocating production to its newly redeveloped Papakura site.

Chief executive Ron Vela said much of the factory's equipment was nearing its end date, and the company could not justify the investment needed to bring it up to scratch.

Griffin's was committed to retaining its manufacturing base in New Zealand but could not do so without rationalisation of its operations, Mr Vela said.

The company was established in Nelson by John Griffin in the 1860s. The Lower Hutt factory was opened in 1938 and the Papakura factory in 1967.

The company now has nearly 1000 employee, 228 in Lower Hutt, and operates four manufacturing sites in New Zealand.

Pacific Equity Partners bought Griffin's in June last year, Mr Vela said. Griffin's turnover is in excess of $300 million.

The Lower Hutt site is expected to close in October 2008.

Mr Vela said Griffin's was the only major biscuit supplier in New Zealand that produced all its company branded product lines locally.

Competition from imported products continued to be fierce and the company wanted to counter this competition by producing top quality products for the New Zealand and international markets, he said.

Mr Vela said the decision to close the Lower Hutt plant was extremely difficult.

There would be a number of positions available for staff wishing to relocate to Auckland.

The Service and Food Workers Union said its 200 members at the site were "extremely disappointed" the decision had been made without consultation.

SFWU national secretary John Ryall said the shock was compounded by the fact that in 2002 the company's former owners worked on a study with the union and the Lower Hutt City Council that concluded the plant should stay open and was a viable business.

- NZPA

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