From FCC Express, by by Owen Roberts
The hunt is underway for a new food processing presence in Leamington, after Heinz announced it’s closing its 104-year-old ketchup-production plant there.
The plant, which also produces baby food and other condiments, will be closed in June, eliminating 740 jobs. Besides taking a toll on the community — Heinz is the town’s biggest employer — the closure also affects about 50 southwestern Ontario tomato farmers who have contracts to deliver their harvests there.
“The planned closure of the plant leaves little time for impacted producers whose livelihood depends on more than 5,500 acres of processing tomatoes grown within 100 kilometres of the Leamington plant,” says Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
The company said in a statement it was closing the plant — the second-largest Heinz plant in the world — and two smaller plants in South Carolina and Idaho “after an extensive review of our company’s North American supply chain footprint, capabilities and capacity utilization.”
Heinz was scheduled to meet with town officials Nov. 22 to discuss options for the plant. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will be lending her government’s support to efforts that will maintain jobs and services in Leamington.
At the premier’s conference last week, she said she hopes a deal can be brokered.
“I don’t know what the possibilities are there, but believe me we will be trying,” she said. “Food processing is one of our strengths in Ontario.”
The federation agrees, pointing out that a recent Ontario agri-food economic study noted Ontario’s food processing sector purchases the majority of its products from Ontario farmers.
The study found that Ontario’s food and beverage processing sector, including the Heinz plant, contributes $21.3 billion to the province’s annual gross domestic product.
Wales notes news of the Heinz closure comes not long after the premier challenged the Ontario agri-food industry to create new growth opportunities.
“It’s vital the Ontario agri-food industry work with government to develop a strategy for domestic food processing so Ontario agriculture and food production continues to thrive, drive economic activity and meet Premier Wynne’s challenge to increase growth,” he says.
The federation says it will join the effort to speak with other producer organizations “to explore new opportunities to keep this land in agricultural production and safeguard the economic stability of this important rural community.”