Up to 600 workers at Premier Foods in Garretts Green have been left ‘heartbroken’ by the announcement of the shock closure of Birmingham’s biggest bakery.

Stunned union officials will meet management at the Birmingham factory 24 hours after the revelation that the bakery and its distribution centre were to shut in the first half of next year.

The site is earmarked for the chop after Premier Foods, producer of Hovis, last month lost a £75 million bread contract with the Co-operative chain.

John Higgins, regional official with the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, said: “It is absolutely heartbreaking.

"I have got to go up there and see people who have completed 30, 40, even 50 years service – some of them are near retirement.

“The union reps there phoned me up at 5.30am to break the news. There has been talk of problems at Premier Foods and Hovis lost a supermarket contract worth around £75 million with the Co-op.

“We are in a terrible situation.

"You should never say never, but things are looking very bleak. It is a very competitive business but Hovis should have been making their plans; all the others in the industry have back-up plans.”

Around 900 UK jobs are to go in total with the closures of the Birmingham site and other sites in West London, Plymouth and Mendlesham.

The Garretts Green blow is the latest in a string of major job cuts in recent years in the West Midlands, with tens of thousands of workers thrown onto the dole following the closures of MG Rover, train-maker Alstom, van maker LDV, HP Sauce, Jaguar at Browns Lane, the Ryton car plant at Coventry and others.

Mr Higgins said entire families would be hit. “This is the biggest bakery in Birmingham. There are whole families working there, fathers and sons, nephews.”

Michael Clarke, chief executive of Premier Foods, said: “It is critical that we act to assure the long-term future of the bread division.

"By simplifying our cost base, we can increase focus on improving efficiency, quality and service levels to help grow our Hovis business.”