Nestlé has announced that it is to cease operations at its Wyeth Nutrition infant formula factory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, by the first quarter of 2026.

It also plans to close the co-located research and development (R&D) centre by the first quarter of 2025.

The closure will result in around 542 job losses.

“We will now consult with all employees and their representative unions. Regrettably, today’s announcement means approximately 542 colleagues will be placed at risk of redundancy,” a statement from the company said on Wednesday.

The facilities were part of Nestlé’s acquisition of Pfizer Nutrition in 2012. Operating as Wyeth Nutritionals Ireland Ltd (WNIL), the factory manufactures infant formula products exclusively for export to markets in greater China and Asia. The factory currently employs 491 people and the R&D facility employs 51 people.

China trends

“External trends have significantly impacted demand for infant nutrition products in the greater China region.

“The number of newborn babies in China has declined sharply from some 18 million per year in 2016 to fewer than nine million projected in 2023. The market, which had previously been reliant on imported infant formula products, is also seeing rapid growth in locally-produced products,” Nestlé said.

SMA Gold - one of Wyeth's infant formula brands.

To adapt to those changes, the company is proposing to transfer the production from Askeaton to two existing factories – Suzhou, in mainland China and Konolfingen, in Switzerland.

Konolfingen is also home to Wyeth and Nestlé Nutrition’s global R&D centre of excellence for infant and maternal products.

It is proposed that R&D work at Askeaton would be absorbed into Konolfingen, where 365 colleagues work on research and product development across several disciplines, and a satellite R&D centre in Shanghai would be strengthened.

No buyer

Nestlé said that the proposals “have been carefully considered” and are no reflection on the excellent contribution made by its employees in Askeaton over many years.

Nestlé's research and development centre in Askeaton, Co Limerick.\ Sean Curtin Fusionshooters

“To date, we have not been able to find a buyer. Therefore, we will commence a meaningful consultation process with our employees on a proposed closure. In parallel, during this consultation we remain open to approaches from a credible buyer.

“We regret the uncertainty this announcement will cause our colleagues and their families, and we will make sure they are supported fully throughout this process,” the company said.