UNILEVER could be set to close its Warrington factory, putting more than 100 jobs at risk.

The company says it is ‘undertaking a review of its future’ at the Crosfields site, where it manufactures its Persil and Surf washing powders.

It pointed to a ‘sustained and irreversible decline in demand’ for powder detergents, believing it will be ‘challenging to find a commercially sustainable alternative to the closure of the factory’.

Unilever’s vice president of supply chain Jon Strachan said: “As a result of a sustained and irreversible decline in consumer demand for washing power, our Warrington factory is currently running at less than half its capacity.

“Despite considerable efforts by Unilever to address the site’s challenges, a review of the future of the site is unfortunately now necessary.

“This decision has not been taken lightly.

“Whatever the outcome, the review is likely to require difficult decisions – we understand this will cause considerable concern for our Warrington employees, suppliers and the local community and that the outcome may have significant implications for them.

“We are committed to treating our employees fairly throughout and providing support during this period of uncertainty.”

Warrington Borough Council chief executive Steven Broomhead said the announcement was a dark day for the town.

He added: "It is a very sad moment given the long history of Unilever in the town.

"We will be working closely with Unilever around job support for the employees.

"We will also be having discussions about the future intention for that site."

The review period is expected to last for around four weeks, and will involve consultations with staff and trade union representatives.

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Washing powder sales have fallen by 15 per cent in the past four years, with customers increasingly buying liquids and capsules for their laundry.

Demand is expected to decline by another 10 per cent each year for the immediate future.

A total of 123 people are employed by Unilever at the Bank Quay site, which is shared with PQ Corporation.

The announcement affects Unilever only, and not the catalysts and chemicals manufacturer its co-habits with.

Twenty-five redundancies were announced at the factory early last year after on one of its product lines was discontinued.

Unilever said that it had 'made considerable efforts to address the site's challenges' in recent years, including introducing new products and offering promotions on its goods.

But this has 'not been enough to offset the sustained shift in consumer behaviour'.

Lever Brothers was founded in Warrington 136 years ago, first opening for business in 1885.

But the town’s soap-making history dates as far back as the 1750s through firms such as Joseph Crosfield and Sons, which opened a small works at Bank Quay in 1814.

The site rapidly grew over the next century, with the upstart Lever Brothers eventually buying out its neighbours in 1919.

Warrington South MP Andy Carter has issued a statement.

He said: “This afternoon I’ve spoken to both Senior Managers at Unilever and the Secretary of State for Business to ensure we’re in a position to support anyone who works at the factory through this unsettling period.  I’ve also reached out to the Trade Union representatives to offer any assistance I can to people working at the plant.

"I understand that there are conversations now taking place within the factory and no formal decisions have yet been taken. 

"The challenges placed on this business - because of a fundamental change in the shopping habits of customers - is not isolated to Unilever. I am re-assured by conversations I’ve had this afternoon that the company is mindful of their obligation to work to re-deploy their staff should they conclude that the future of this factory is not sustainable."