A MAJOR employer is pulling out of Bolton, with the possible loss of 150 jobs, and transferring its base to Bradford.

Oliver Kay Produce, which distributes fresh fruit and vegetables to the catering and leisure sectors, has stunned the workforce at its Bolton depot by announcing the move away from its base at Britannia Way, The Valley, where it utilises a 44,000 sq ft refrigerated warehouse.

The firm blames a need for the move on the coronavirus crisis which has devastated the leisure industry.

Despite diversifying into home deliveries, the move has not been enough to safeguard the business and parent company Bidfresh says it has had to transfer work to its larger depot in Bradford.

Consultations are taking place with the unions and staff representatives at the Bolton centre over redundancies or job moves to Bradford.

Confirming the move, Ian Stuart, managing director of produce at Bidfresh said: “Following the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality sector, Oliver Kay Produce is currently undertaking a number of structural and operational changes within its business.

“This will not only secure the future of the company, but also enable it to remain agile and adapt to customers’ changing needs during these uncertain times.

“Part of the restructure plan will see Oliver Kay relocate from its previous premises in Bolton to a new home in larger premises in Bradford.

“This site will become a new northern hub, known as Oliver Kay Bradford, cementing our position as the fresh produce specialist for the wider Bidfood group, and creating new supply opportunities and synergies that will fuel future growth.

“Whilst we are unable to sustain our team at its current size, we are working hard to do our utmost to support those affected.

“To this end, we will be consulting with elected employee representatives to look at ways of avoiding, mitigating and reducing the impact of these changes.

“No one could have anticipated the impact Covid-19 would have on our business and whilst this is a difficult time, we take the future of our employees very seriously and are committed to supporting those affected as best we can.”

The business was originally a family-owned firm which was sold to Bidfresh in 2012.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, which led to the firm’s customers shutting or cancelling orders, the majority of staff are believed to have been furloughed.

One man, who asked to remain anonymous as he has friends and family employed at Oliver Kay, told how the staff remained loyal to the business and did not seek other work in the belief that their jobs would resume at the end of the furlough.

But they were told that the depot was shutting in conference calls on Thursday last week.

“They are heartbroken,” he said.

“When Oliver Kay sold the business there were always rumours they would shut it down.

“This has been in the pipeline. They have seen the opportunity to keep the staff on and in the meantime finalise their move to Bradford.

“The concept of what has been done is quite lousy.”