THIRTY to 40 employees have lost their jobs after suddenly discovering that Devon Quality Foods Ltd, Dawlish Business Park, Shutterton, has gone bust.

Opened in the early 80s, the factory made quiches, fruit pies and sponges that were sold to supermarkets, catering companies and hospitals.

Last Friday, staff turned up at 9am as usual, only to find that they no longer had somewhere to work.

Instead of going into the factory as normal they were told to wait in the canteen. News of the liquidation was broken to them by a representative of Lamey CJ & Co, the company now handling the accounts, and they were asked to leave.

A former Devon Quality Foods (DQ) baker, who had been employed for 18 years, said: 'I'm a bit gutted about being left in the dark. There was no warning at all and it has come at a real shock being so close to Christmas which I'm not very happy about.

'Things had got a bit quiet in the factory though, orders were not being taken and many of us were on three-day weeks. We were told this was because of too much stock up in Langdon's in Bristol.'

It is understood that DQ was losing about £4,000 a week and one of its main contracts with Somerfield was lost four to five months ago.

One of the primary reasons it got the contract was when Devon Desserts closed down. A former employee of Devon Desserts started work with DQ and brought the Somerfield contract with him. Sponge line equipment from the former Newton Abbot company was also bought, sealing the lucrative deal. Unfortunately for DQ, Somerfield introduced its own specialist equipment so its could make it own in-house at a lower cost.

'This has come as real surprise to all of us who used to work there,' said the baker, who wishes to remain anonymous. 'Many of the people who were employed had only been there a short while, under two years, which means that they are not entitled to any redundancy pay. I can tell you that they are not happy with it as they all have bills that need to be paid. Only about seven or eight of us are entitled to redundancy pay and we won't even be receiving that until February.'

No one at Lamey CJ & Co was available for comment at the time of going to press. Directors of DQ Foods Ltd were also unable to comment.