WYCOMBE, UNITED KINGDOM — Rank Hovis Ltd. plans to sell two flour mills and close a third, leaving it with just one flour mill. Hovis said the decision reflects the company’s strategy “to identify the best way forward in an economically challenging environment within a highly competitive market.”

Hovis said it will close its mill in Southhampton, which employs 71 workers, and sell its Manchester and Selby facilities to Whitworth Bros. Ltd. Hovis said the Southampton mill is “significantly loss-making,” adding that the decision to close the mill came after a review of the marketplace and anticipated costs of operating the site.

“Hovis has succeeded in building a strong and successful business that reflects our heritage as a U.K. family favorite while also adapting to future opportunities,” said Nish Kankiwala, chief executive officer of Hovis Ltd. “We have a clearly defined strategy to invest in and continue to grow our bakery business and to be a leading, quality manufacturer.

“The sale of two Rank Hovis Mills, the proposed Southampton mill closure and the integration of the Wellingborough mill, is part of the process to futureproof our core baking business in the competitive market.

“Whilst we never take decisions such as these lightly, we firmly believe this is the right decision for the business and ensures Hovis will continue to grow and prosper as a great U.K. brand and bakery manufacturer in a very competitive marketplace.

“Our priority now is to work with affected milling colleagues and customers to minimize the impact on them.”

Hovis sustained a loss of €11.7 million in 2017, an improvement from a €34.2 million loss in 2016.

In 2014, Premier Foods, which acquired Rank Hovis in 2007, sold a controlling stake to the U.S. investment firm, The Gores Group. Premier Foods today has a 49% stake in the company’s baking and flour milling business.

The Rank Hovis brand originated in Macclesfield, Cheshire, in 1886, and became part of Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) in 1962 after a succession of mergers.

Its product portfolio includes Rank Hovis Originals, a comprehensive range of white, wholemeal and cake flours for the craft baker, as well as a range of sweet cake mixes and two of the U.K.'s best known brands, Hovis and Granary.

Whitworth Bros. Ltd., a subsidiary of Whitworth Holdings Group, established in 1886, has been expanding its milling business in the last 10 years with the opening of a new mill in Peterborough, and acquisitions of three mills from Smiths Flour Mills, three milling facilities from Carrs Flour Mills and now two more from Rank Hovis.