The closure of Danone in Asturias: the last blow in the process of industrial concentration of the French giant

The closure of a factory with 40 years of history behind it highlights how the production model of the dairy sector in Spain is being transformed, specifically that of the French multinational Danone. The company has announced "the cessation of activity" of its Salas factory in Asturias. It avoids talking about closure even if it puts an end to the production of one of its four dairy product factories in Spain, which employs 80 workers in a fundamentally rural area, where there are not many industrial alternatives.

"They have proposed an ERE (Employment Regulation File) for extinction by the end of the year," explains Juan Carlos García, secretary of the works council and representative of the left-wing union Corriente, to "The justification they give us are productive causes, a drop in sales and a very high cost of production. They are going to take manufacturing to France."

In Spain, together with Asturias, the company has three other dairy manufacturing centers in Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia; in addition to three mineral water bottling facilities, because Danone also owns water brands such as Lanjarón or Font Vella. Precisely, the installations of Danone were among those affected by the recent strike of carriers.

The cessation of activity in Asturias has not caught the workforce by surprise, given that it is not the first time that Danone has decided to close a factory in Spain or sell it to a competitor. In 2014, it transferred its factory in Tenerife to Schreiber Foods, a company specialized in 'white label' supermarkets and hypermarkets. A year earlier it closed its factory in Seville and transferred the workload to Madrid and Valencia.

In Asturias, the French giant has been producing cheese and desserts for decades. For example, the Danonino, the old 'petit suisse'. "At the end of last year there was a project, which we could have done, but it went to Madrid. We told the company that it had given us the lace and they said that was not the case. Now, look," says Juan Carlos García.

In this case, in addition, the representative of the works council deepens that all the production of Danone in Salas cannot be transferred to other factories of the subsidiary. "In Spain this production cannot be done, because we have processes that nobody has," he assumes. "They take him out."

The company is not talking about industrial rethinking, even though it is downsizing its factory network. "In recent years, a commitment has been made to maintain production in Spain," says a company spokeswoman. Danone frames the cessation of activity in "a rationalization process, given the need to adapt to current and future consumer trends and guarantee, at the same time, the efficiency of industrial operations in order to continue building the future of brands and consolidate its competitiveness.

"Danone has a historical presence in Spain and is a strategic market for the company. The company maintains its commitment to the territory, for this reason it will maintain relationships with local dairy producers to continue supplying the company's other production centers," he adds. .

The multinational assures that, with these conversations, "a dialogue process begins in which the company will work together with the legal representation of the workers to offer the best possible solutions and will try to reach an agreement that satisfies the interests of all parts".

What the staff is looking for is the "continuity of the factory, be it with Danone or with another owner", clarifies Juan Carlos García. The Government of the Principality also asks for continuity and urges Danone to reverse the closure. Otherwise, the alternative goes through the search for a buyer who maintains the activity. An option to which the company is open. Also, as indicated by the Ministry of Industry of Asturias, the mediation by the state Executive, to avoid the closure of a factory that hits the rural environment.

The Asturian Government asks Danone to sit down to talk and explain the reasons why it has decided to abandon industrial activity in the Principality. Its president, Adrián Barbón, has criticized that the company seeks to "reduce costs by laying off workers" and describes this step as "business greed", in statements collected by 'La Voz de Asturias'.

For the Danone group, Spain represents 4% of the multinational's income. Global sales that, in 2021, reached 24,281 million euros.

The subsidiary has not yet presented its evolution in the Mercantile Registry in this last year, but it has that of 2020. In the year of greatest impact of the pandemic, the sales of the Spanish subsidiary increased by 3%, standing at 789.7 millions of euros. And it was profitable, although less than in the previous exercise. In 2020, Danone Spain earned 91 million euros, 7.6% less than in the previous year and saw its operating expenses grow by 8%, as reported by 'Five days', with an expense of 3.8% in compensation and early retirement.

Danone is a French multinational but its seed is in Barcelona. There, in 1919, Isaac Carasso founded a company for whose name he took as a reference the nickname of his son Daniel: 'Danon'. Years later he moved to France and continued the business in the neighboring country. After the Civil War, Daniel Carasso joined three other Catalan families, Portabella, Fuster and Botton, and together they developed the subsidiary. In other words, the local business has gone hand in hand with the French, although with the French company as a reference shareholder. In fact, until 2016, the three Catalan families held small holdings in the capital of the Iberian business.

Now, the dairy giant announces a cessation of activity in Spain that, according to union sources, has not occurred in centers in its country of origin. In 2014, for example, it announced the closure of factories in Budapest, Hungary; Casale Cremasco, in Italy; and Hagenow in Germany. The reason, he explained then, the progressive fall in sales in Europe during the past decade. In those cases, production was moved to other facilities in Belgium, Poland, Germany and France.

"Danone's situation comes from the previous crisis," argues Pedro Gutiérrez, CCOO representative at Danone. "They have been making decisions, in a market where less dairy is consumed, but also more products of plant origin." "Since 2007, the group has been concentrating its industrial volume. There were 21 factories and now there are 10, some have been closed and others have been sold," says Gutiérrez, who recalls how other dairy companies have also suffered in recent years, among others , brands like Yoplait or Clesa.

"Since the 90s we have gone from 4,000 to 2,000 employees. There are functions that have been outsourced, such as sales or transport", lists the CCOO representative. He also indicates that, in recent years, Danone has invested in the factories that are still active and that it maintains a high quality policy in its products. , in the prices paid to farmers and that has increased exports from Spanish production centers to other countries, such as Actimel, which is produced in Valencia."The factories are high-tech, robotized. That is investment, but it makes you need fewer people, "he summarizes.

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