JOB losses at Ledbury’s Universal Beverages Limited could come sooner than expected.

Cider production is due to end at the Ledbury factory and move to Hereford by December 2015.

But according to a new statement from owner Heineken, it could be as soon as next May with as few as 16 workers left at Ledbury, to handle ongoing milling operations.

New jobs to be created as part of the £58 million investment in the Hereford plant will be “more than 50".

Nigel Pollard, Heineken’s head of external communications said: “It is worth noting that we are dealing with proposals which will not come in to effect until May 2015 at the earliest, we have chosen to announce them early in order to give colleagues a chance to plan and prepare.”

Official consultation with the UBL workforce, over the proposed relocation will begin on Wednesday, April 23.

Mr Pollard said Heineken was in close contact with the union Unite, and added: “We can confirm there are 97 people affected at UBL Ledbury by our proposed changes to the site and future transfer of work to Hereford.

“There will be at least 16 jobs retained at Ledbury to undertake fruit milling operations.”

He said there is already “significant interest” from the Ledbury workers in the possibility of new positions at Hereford.

Unite spokesman, Shaun Noble said: “”The consultation formally starts on April 23, so there is not much to say until that process develops.

“It is not for Unite to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation process, but to take part in it, in a constructive fashion.”

The UBL site was formerly the base for Robertson’s Ledbury Preserves, which closed in 2007.