Heinz to close Pocatello plant
By John O’Connell
POCATELLO, Idaho — Officials of H.J. Heinz say their Pocatello facility, which employs 410 workers, is among three plants scheduled for closure during the next six to eight months.
The company also intends to close a plant in Florence, S.C., which has 200 workers, and a Canadian plant in Learnington, Ontario, which has a workforce of 740.
Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen said in a press release that production will shift to other Heinz factories in the U.S. and Canada.
“Heinz will continue to invest in improving capacity utilization and will add 470 employees across five existing factories in Ohio, Iowa, California and Canada,” Mullen said. “Once this consolidation is complete, Heinz will employ approximately 6,800 hourly and salaried workers at sites across Canada and the U.S.
Heinz will offer the displaced workers severance benefits, outplacement services and other support, Mullen said.
“We reached this decision after exploring extensive alternatives and options,” Mullen said. “Heinz fully appreciates and regrets the impact our decision will have on employees and the communities in which these factories are located.”
On Feb. 14, Heinz announced its acquisition by an investment consortium comprising an investment fund affiliated with 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway, which is controlled by Warren Buffett.
Heinz bought the Pocatello plant from Kraft Foods in 1980. Though Heinz once used the plant for processing its Ore-Ida frozen potato product line, the facility has been used for making frozen meals in recent years.
Dan Hargraves, executive director of Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative, said Idaho growers sell millions of hundredweights of potatoes to the Ontario, Ore., Heinz plant, but the Pocatello plant closure shouldn’t affect his growers.
“They were using hardly any spuds,” Hargraves said.
Matt Hunter, president and CEO of the Pocatello Chamber of Commerce, believes the facility has good rail access and has a good chance of being redeveloped for a new food processing use.
“Heinz didn’t pay their chamber dues last month. Now we know why,” Hunter said.
Prior to the announcement, Heinz had considered producing a line of deep-fried foods in Pocatello, said John Regetz, executive director of Bannock Development Corp.
Regetz has asked the plant manager to provide information about when layoffs will occur and when the building will be available to market to other businesses. Regentz said other companies that have recently moved into Idaho would likely have been a good fit for the facility, and he’s optimistic the plant won’t remain idle. He believes the plant would be especially attractive with processors who finalize their processes with freezing.
“It has great capacity. I think it’s very viable,” Regetz said. “Only very specialized food processors with a very specialized niche wouldn’t be able to use it.”
Regetz said the Idaho Department of Labor’s rapid response team will assist with assessing the needs of workers, helping them obtain benefits and teaching job-searching skills.