PLANT

UPDATE: Highbury to reopen Heinz plant in Leamington

The Ontario-based consortium of investors intends to employ about 250 people plus additional seasonal workers.


Heinz Ketchup label.

LEAMINGTON, Ont. — Food giant Heinz says it has reached a preliminary deal with Highbury Canco Corp. to allow Highbury to acquire its tomato processing plant in Leamington, Ont., saving it from complete closure.

Heinz, a major employer in the southwestern Ontario town, announced plans last November to close the facility by late June, putting close to 800 full-time employees out of work.

Highbury Canco Corp., an Ontario-based consortium of investors, said it intends to employ about 250 people plus additional seasonal workers.

Under the terms of the letter of intent, Highbury would assume responsibility for the Heinz Leamington site and transition to manufacturing, co-packing and distribution of certain products in early July.

Highbury’s growth plan, including subsequent investment in the site, would provide additional employment opportunities in the future.

“We look forward to working with this experienced and knowledgeable team to build a successful plan, not only to operate the facility but also to increase its potential,” said Michael Mullen, senior vice-president of corporate and government affairs at Heinz.

With looming deadlines surrounding the 2014 tomato crop, Highbury said it hopes to move quickly through the next steps and confirm the commitments made by its strategic partners, which are critical to making the letter of intent a reality.

“We have a knowledgeable workforce, a vibrant local community, and this is a solid plan for a bright future,” said Sam Diab, Highbury member and the current Factory Manager at the Leamington facility. “We are at a critical stage in this process and are relying on the assistance of our strategic partners to move forward.”

He said in the next few weeks Highbury will be working closely with Heinz, local farmers, UFCW 459, and all three levels of government.

“We believe that our investment in Leamington will become the cornerstone to providing Ontario’s agricultural products around the world, not just in Canada,” said Pradeep Sood, a member of Highbury.  “[Highbury] understands how to sell in emerging markets and we believe we can provide a nimble, proactive, customer-focused source of Canadian products for the world.”

Heinz had said it would close its plant in the southwestern Ontario community by late June, putting close to 800 full-time employees out of work. The plant makes ketchup, baby food, canned tomatoes, beans and it processes tomato juice.

Various unconfirmed media reports suggested an announcement could be made Thursday about a partial reopening of the facility.

Leamington Mayor John Paterson left the Ontario Good Roads Association meeting in Toronto to return home for a possible announcement. He said media reports that an imminent announcement would be made took him by surprise.

The Windsor Star reported a source with knowledge of the plan said a new owner or lessee would take over the facility and make tomato juice for Heinz. That could save 40% of the 800 jobs that were to be lost as a result of the closing. The plant makes ketchup, baby food, canned tomatoes, beans and it processes tomato juice.

The initial Heinz decision also affected up to 500 seasonal workers hired each year during tomato-harvesting season.

Heinz announced in November it was closing its plant in mid-2014.

Earlier in the  year, a consortium led by American billionaire Warren Buffet bought the company.

Fast food chain McDonald’s announced in October that it was ending its relationship with Heinz because they had named former Burger King CEO Bernardo Hees as their president.

At the time Premier Kathleen Wynne announced those affected by the planned closure would be getting aid from the government: up to $200,000 from the Communities in Transition program, to help Leamington identify and pursue new opportunities for growth.

© 2014 The Canadian Press