Golden Wonder collapse leaves 850 jobs in jeopardy

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The crisp maker Golden Wonder went into administration yesterday, threatening the loss of 850 jobs and leaving it possibly as the next high-profile casualty to call for the assistance of the newly formed Pensions Protection Fund.

Kroll, the administrators, said the company, which has long battled against PepsiCo-owned Walkers, the market leader, suffered "significant losses" last year on top of a £10.8m loss in 2004. Kroll said it hoped Golden Wonder could be rescued but added the own-label operation in Corby, Northamptonshire, which makes crisps for supermarkets, would close and production would shift to Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire. This is likely to result in redundancies. Kroll also warned of a further restructuring of the business.

Golden Wonder employs 350 people at Corby, 380 at Scunthorpe and 120 at its headquarters in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.

According to the company's last set of published accounts, for the 12 months to the end of 2003, the group has a £200m final-salary pension scheme, with an FRS 17 deficit of more than £16m. Given that life expectancy forecasts have continued to improve since then, it is possible that this deficit could now be considerably higher.

The Pension Protection Fund, which was established in April last year, is already considering applications for assistance from 30 pension schemes, including those of MG Rover and Heath Lambert.

Golden Wonder, which introduced ready salted crisps to the world, as well as other flavours such as cheese and onion, has struggled to compete against Walkers, which dominates more than 50 per cent of the market. In 2003 Golden Wonder was forced to close its factory in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, with the loss of 375 jobs. A £25m relaunch under Ed Jackson, who was appointed to turn around the ailing company in the spring of 2004, failed to stem the fall in sales.

Adrian Wolstenhome, the joint administrator, said: "The UK market is dominated by a single crisp and snack manufacturer, and Golden Wonder has found it difficult to compete against this leader's strength in the market place." But he added: "With such well-known and well-liked brands, we hope a sale of all or parts of the business can be secured."

The company held talks with interested bidders at the end of last year, and Kroll said it hopes to restart these discussions.

Golden Wonder, founded by the Scottish bakery owner William Alexander in 1947, has frequently changed ownership. In 2002 the private-equity group Bridgepoint Capital offloaded the bulk of the business to Longulf, the owner of Snack Factory, while the top-selling Wotsits brand was sold to Walkers.

Bridgepoint had bought Golden Wonder from Legal & General in 2000. Before that, it was part of the Dalgety food group.