Mondelēz International won't rule out job cuts in the £75M overhaul of its Cadbury Bournville plant near Birmingham, as it seeks to modernise production and improve efficiency there.
A spokeswoman for the company told FoodManufacture.co.uk it would explore all avenues during its proposed three-year investment project at the plant, including increased automation.
"Yes there will be increased automation," she added. "Realistically there will be fewer people working at Bournville than there are today and the guys in the factory understand that."
However, she stressed development plans would involve training up existing workers, equipping them with the knowledge to handle updated equipment and processes.
The aim would be to improve efficiency and trim costs, she said. "At the moment it costs twice as much to manufacture a bar of chocolate in Bournville as it does in our German factory."
FoodManufacture.co.uk also understands the investment plan safeguards many jobs that otherwise would have been threatened.
A complete cost-saving analysis would be undertaken, embracing areas such as energy use and different ways of working, she said. "We are starting consultation with employees and we are going into consultation with a completely open mind."
Mondelēz stressed the £75M cash boost depended on the successful conclusion of the consultation. It aims to pump the money into four production lines, two chocolate bar lines and two chocolate assortment lines for its Cadbury Roses and Heroes brands.
The move would represent the first investment in Cadbury chocolate assortment production for 30 years, Mondelēz claimed.
Trades union Unite welcomed its announcement, saying it was “good news” and the result of long negotiations over restructuring plans.
“It is yet another example of success when unions and employers work together in the manufacturing industry,” said Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy.
“The company has poured £33M of investment over the last two years and now it is pouring a further £75M into Cadbury. This investment should help the company compete more effectively which in turn will boost job security for over 3,000 workers across the UK.”
Neil Chapman, manufacturing director, chocolate UK, Mondelēz International, said: “Bournville has a proud manufacturing heritage and we are committed to ensuring it continues and becomes a world class manufacturing site.
"This investment would secure the site’s future for the next generation. The competitiveness gap we have identified means we are already missing out on important opportunities to grow.
"Through our consultation, we want to hear as many ideas as possible from our employees on how, alongside our £75M investment, we achieve improvements that boost competitiveness, thereby securing the next generation of manufacturing at Bournville.”
In addition to Dairy Milk, the Bournville manufacturing facilities make a range of other brands, such as Cadbury Creme Eggs and Cadbury Wispa.