DOZENS of workers at a North-East drinks bottling firm have left their posts, The Northern Echo can confirm.

Refresco, in Durham City, says about half its 93-strong workforce are no longer with the company, with the rest expected to leave by the end of February.

Bosses revealed the cuts last year, saying they wanted to shift work from its Belmont Industrial Estate factory to Somerset after a merger with rival Gerber Emig.

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The firm bottles soft and energy drinks, fruit juices and iced teas for retailers across Europe.

It says it was forced to make the move after battling increasing industry costs, and revealed some North-East workers are looking at relocating to the West Country.

The job losses are another major blow to Durham's economy after Peters Bakery previously fell into administration and Kerry Foods closed its Dragonville plant, with the loss of about 350 jobs.

A spokesman said the company was reluctant to see any workers leave, but was struggling with an under-capacity factory.

He said: “Half of the staff went before Christmas and the rest of the staff will go by the end of February.

“There are some people looking at Somerset and seeing if that would be acceptable, but there is a long way to go on that.

“The drinks industry is very competitive and a lot of companies are seeing consolidation of their assets as inevitable.

“There are increasing costs in raw materials and packaging and trying to draw those costs back through the customer is very difficult.”

In November, the Refresco group revealed its third quarter results, which showed revenues of £340m, compared to £346m in the same quarter in 2012, with operating profits up to £21m.

Chief executive, Hans Roelofs, said its merger with Gerber would allow it to strengthen its position in Europe.

He added: “As one company, Refresco Gerber is the largest pan-European bottler of soft drinks and fruit juices serving retail and branded customers.

“Our customers' increasing needs and demands will benefit from our significant presence in all the major markets and soft drinks product categories in Europe.”

Bosses say Refresco Gerber, which has headquarters in Rotterdam, looks after about 6.5 billion litres of drinks and employs more than 4,500 workers.

Gerber works with brands including Del Monte, Sunny D, Innocent and Funkin Cocktails.