Heinz announces deal to keep Leamington, Ont. plant in operation
Corinne Ton That, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, February 27, 2014 9:25AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 27, 2014 9:03PM EST
The Canadian company Highbury Canco Corporation has signed a letter of intent to acquire the Heinz processing facility in Leamington, Ont., where it will operate as a co-packer for the ketchup-maker.
"Heinz received many expressions of interest in the facility, and we are able to identify a strong new partner for the community and for Heinz," senior vice-president of Heinz Michael Mullen said in the news release Thursday.
Under the terms of the deal, Highbury Canco will continue to manufacture certain Heinz products in addition to providing the company with certain distribution and logistics services.
Highbury said it intends to employ about 250 people and additional seasonal workers. The company said it also has growth plans, including “subsequent investment,” which could lead to more jobs in the future.
"The Leamington Plant has an excellent workforce and Ontario's farmers are amongst the best in the world," said Highbury Canco spokesperson Pradeeb Sood said. "We believe that our investment will be the cornerstone to providing Ontario's agricultural products around the world, not just in Canada."
Sood added that he is "looking forward to working closely" with local farmers, the Leamington workforce and all levels of government to finalize the agreement.
The union representing workers at the Heinz plant said it was pleased with Thursday’s announcement. “We welcome the prospect of good jobs being maintained at the plant, which has served as the keystone of Leamington’s economy for generations,” said Robert Crawford, president of UFCW Canada Local 459.
The union added that Highbury Canco said it planned to respect collective bargaining rights.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s minister of economic development Eric Hoskins called the tentative deal “a testament to the world-class agri-food industry in Leamington and the workers, families, businesses and leadership that support it."
The food giant announced last fall that it would shutter its 105-year-old Leamington plant in June 2014, putting almost 800 full-time employees out of work, along with another 500 seasonal workers.
The news came as a shock to the community of 28,000, as Heinz is the largest employer in Leamington -- dubbed the "tomato capital of Canada."
Leamington's mayor said the town was extremely pleased with the deal, but noted that it hadn't been finalized yet.
"This is just a letter of intent," said Mayor John Paterson. "But you know what, it's a big sunshine ray of hope for our future."
Paterson added that he had "no visions of grandeur" that the new company would hire all of Heinz's existing plant workers immediately, but said he would be watching to see if Highbury Canco would expand as it planned to.
Paterson said several business proposals emerged since Heinz announced the plant’s closure last November, and that the municipality had been trying to lure investment by arranging attractive water and property taxes for the interested party.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Windsor