by SUSAN MANN
Canada’s largest food processing plant will close its door for good in mid-2014.
H.J. Heinz Company of Canada LP identified the target for closing its Leamington plant in a letter dated today and addressed to employees.
The plant will be closed in a staged process over the next six to eight months and production will shift to other factories in the United States and Canada, the letter says.
“We recognize this announcement is difficult to hear,” it says. “We want you to know this decision was not made in haste and numerous alternatives and options were explored before taking this action.”
The company is closing the 104-year-old plant primarily because of excess capacity in “our North American manufacturing system.” In addition to the Leamington plant, Heinz also announced it is closing two manufacturing facilities in the United States.
The Leamington plant is the second largest Heinz plant in the world and has been operating for 104 years. It employs 750 unionized workers, 150 salaried staff and 340 to 360 seasonal staff. It mainly supplies the Canadian market but also ships some products to the United States.
From 2008 to 2012, Ontario annually grew an average of 13,377 acres of processing tomatoes with an annual farm gate value of about $54.5 million. Most of Ontario’s tomato production takes place in Essex County and Chatham-Kent. Growers there estimate about half of their annual production goes to the Heinz plant.
Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, says in a prepared statement he is disappointed with Heinz’s decision to close its Leamington operations. “The agri-food industry has made a significant contribution to Heinz over the years.”
“Our government will be there to support affected workers in this difficult time,” he says. “The Ontario government is ready and willing to offer support and resources to affected workers. I will also ensure that Leamington and the surrounding area are taking full advantage of regional economic development programs and other provincial supports.”
In its nine-paragraph letter, Heinz says it was informing employees now “out of respect” for them and to give them as much time as possible to make decisions that are right for themselves and their families. The company says it will be offering severance packages to assist employees in pursing new job opportunities. BF