NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, U.K. — Whitworth Bros. Ltd., a subsidiary of Whitworth Holdings Group, is taking another step to expand its milling business with the announcement it has agreed to acquire two flour mills from Rank Hovis Ltd.

The flour mills, located in Manchester and Shelby, U.K., add to Whitworth’s portfolio of facilities that have been acquired in recent years, including the $48.4 million purchase of Carr’s Flour Mills Ltd. and its three milling facilities located in Cumbria, Essex and Fife in the United Kingdom from Carr’s Group P.L.C. in 2016. Whitworth’s, which produces a range of wheat flours as well as flour and grits milled from maize, rice and rye grains, also over the past decade has acquired three mills from Smiths Flour Mills and opened a mill in Peterborough, U.K.

In addition to selling the two flour mills to Whitworth’s, Rank Hovis said it will close its Southampton mill, which employs 71 workers, leaving the company with just one flour mill, in Wellingborough, Northants. The Wellingborough mill will be integrated into Hovis’ baking supply chain and provide flour for the company’s Hovis brand.

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 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 several sweet cake mixes and two of the U.K.’s best known brands, Hovis and Granary.