Search Continues for Food Processor to Fill Pending Heinz Gap

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

More than 45 food processors have been approached to either set up shop in Leamington or buy from suppliers bracing for the closure of the H.J. Heinz plant in June.

“There are people that we have spoken with that we have then put them in touch with Heinz and where those discussions go from that point on we don’t know,” Sandra Pupatello, CEO of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, said Tuesday.

Monday night Pupatello updated Leamington council on the corporation’s efforts since the Nov. 14 closure announcement to find another company that would operate out of the plant or in the region. There are rumours and speculation but since the economic development corporation does not know what Heinz will do with the plant, Pupatello said the corporation will continue the search and help Heinz suppliers. Some of them relied totally on Heinz business.

Michael Mullen, senior vice-president of corporate and government affairs at the Heinz Pittsburgh headquarters, said in January the company continues “to review options for the facility post closure” and Tuesday via email said there was no update.

The ideal situation is Heinz selling the plant and another company moving in with a larger operation and more jobs, Pupatello said. She can’t divulge which food processors the corporation has been in touch with but said local economic development officials are putting on a full-court press to attract attention to what she called a “dream area for food processing.”

The Essex County and Chatham-Kent region already have about 60 food processors, a supply chain to support them and an exchange rate that is looking more favorable for expansion or attracting new companies, she said.

“When you realize what we have for that industry in this region, we have a very good case to be made for companies who are not here yet and probably never heard from us and they’re hearing from us now.”

The $200,000 in funding from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Communities in Transition Fund is being used to pay two consultants with food processing or supply chain backgrounds to work with businesses at risk because of the pending closure.

Pupatello said the economic development corporation identified 68 Heinz suppliers and has done 31 risk assessments where Heinz was a key component of the business. She said it is too complex to estimate the number of jobs in the supply chain that could be at risk because of the Heinz closure.

The corporation is working with companies to update their business plans, websites and pitches for new buyers. Some have not had to look for new business in years. She said because of Essex County’s location, they are looking at new business for those suppliers from the northeastern United States and the Toronto area.

A  workshop about protecting  businesses in a changing economy will be held in Leamington Feb. 25.

Last month Heinz reached closure agreements with its unionized employees and farmers. The plant is expected to close June 27.