Approximately 400 jobs are at risk after food giant PepsiCo has unveiled plans to shut its Walkers snacks factory in County Durham.
The US-based company, whose brands include Pepsi and Gatorade among the others, said on Wednesday (1 March) it was considering closing the facility at Peterlee and shift operations from the factory to other sites across Britain.
The proposal, which would hit 380 people, was outlined at two separate meetings and consultations are now due to begin with the workers who could be affected.
The American giant said the decision of closing the factory had been taken in order to improve the efficiency its snacks manufacturing operations across Britain.
"Crisps currently produced at the site would be manufactured at our other facilities in the UK," said Tracey Foster, Peterlee manufacturing director at PepsiCo UK
"Peterlee has been an important site for our business but the changes we are proposing present significant productivity and efficiency savings crucial for ensuring the long-term sustainable growth of our business in the UK."
A number of popular Walkers' brands, such as Wotsits, Cheetos, Smiths Fries and Walkers Sensations are produced at the factory in County Durham and Foster acknowledged the news would be "upsetting" for everyone involved.
"It is a difficult proposal for us to put forward and we want to make clear that it in no way reflects the performance of our colleagues at Peterlee, who we are grateful to for their hard work and commitment," she said.
"No decisions will be made without first consulting employees and their representatives. We would also like to reassure colleagues that we will be providing on-going support and assistance from this point onwards."
However, the company looks set to have a fight on its hands after Michael Hunt, regional organiser for the GMB union, vowed to challenge the food giant when the negotiations start on 15 March.
Hunt drew attention to the fact the proposal indicates the factory would close on 31 December this year, with redundancies to take place on the same day, which he described as a further blow to employees.
"They have not given too much information but I have further meeting with them on 15 March when I will drill down into the detail," he said.
"They say production has been low at Peterlee, lower than at other UK sites, but I will be challenging that obviously.
"It wasn't long ago that the government said they wanted to reinvigorate the region and inject business into the North East but the opposite appears to be true. For want of a better phrase this isn't the Northern Powerhouse, it's the Northern Poorhouse."