Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ontario ketchup plant doomed

Heinz closing sends Leamington reeling

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LEAMINGTON, Ont. -- After more than a century operating in the heart of Ontario's tomato country, ketchup-maker Heinz Canada is closing its plant in Leamington next year.

The food manufacturer and processor said Thursday the shutdown will be phased in over the next six to eight months and will cut 740 full-time permanent jobs. Up to 500 seasonal workers hired each year during tomato-harvesting season will also be affected.

Heinz has been in Leamington for more than a century after choosing the city in 1909 for its first expansion outside the United States.

The Leamington plant produced ketchup, condiments and sauces, baby food and tomato juice. It will now shift production from the plant to its smaller facility in St. Marys, Ont., and to the U.S.

"We reached this decision after thoroughly exploring extensive alternatives and options," Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen said in an email in which he referenced closures in the U.S. as well.

"Heinz fully appreciates and regrets the impact our decision will have on employees and the communities in which these factories are located."

Heinz Canada is one of the largest employers in Leamington, a community of 28,000 southeast of Windsor. It reportedly pays the city about $1 million in taxes each year.

About 40 per cent of the 7,000 acres of tomatoes planted in the region are contracted to the company, according to figures supplied by Chatham-Kent agriculture specialist Kim Cooper.

Francis Dobbelaar, a member of the board of directors of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, said many farmers have already started work on their tomato crop and will be at a loss if Heinz does not honour their existing contracts for this year.

"Farmers have done the cultivating and have made the investments necessary for next year's crop," he told the Chatham Voice community newspaper. "We have to wait and see what Heinz does in terms of its contracts and whether there will be some type of compensation."

Dobbelaar said issues of planting alternative crops or market changes will come to bear once more is known. Transporting tomatoes to processing elsewhere isn't feasible in the long term, he added.

He has 100 acres not contracted to Heinz, but feels the pain associated with the loss.

"These are our friends and neighbours, and it's a bad day for them," Dobbelaar said. "There isn't much in the way of a silver lining at this point."

The company also announced it is closing its manufacturing facilities in Florence, S.C., costing 200 jobs, and Pocatello, Idaho, which will affect 410 positions.

"Our decision to consolidate manufacturing across North America is a critical step in our plan to ensure we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible," Mullen said.

In total, Heinz is eliminating 1,350 positions across Canada and the U.S. It said it will invest in the remaining facilities and add 470 positions at five factories in Ohio, Iowa, California and Canada.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2013 B13

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