Heinz to close three North American plants

New management at the H.J. Heinz Co. continues to seek ways to cut costs, and the Pittsburgh company announced Thursday it would close three plants in North America in the next six to eight months, affecting 1,350 jobs in South Carolina, Idaho and Ontario, Canada.

Heinz plans to shift production to five existing plants in Ohio, Iowa, California and Canada, adding a total of 470 positions at those sites.

The move represents the latest in a series of layoffs made by the food company since it was acquired in June for more than $28 billion by a joint venture of 3G Capital and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. When the deal was announced, many observers predicted cuts would follow based on the track record of the new operators and the price paid.

This summer, Heinz trimmed 600 office positions in its North American operations, including 350 jobs in the Pittsburgh area. Layoffs also have come in other parts of the global company's operations. In September, Heinz reported in a regulatory filing that about 1,200 employees had been affected by its restructuring.

On Thursday, Michael Mullen, Heinz senior vice president of corporate and government affairs, said the decision to close the three plants in this latest round came after a review of North American capabilities and use of the company's plant capacity.

The Florence, S.C., plant, which employs 200 people, makes Smart Ones frozen foods and had only been open a few years. The Pocatello, Idaho, factory, also makes frozen entrees and snacks, and it employs 410 people.

Meanwhile, Heinz has had a plant that makes ketchup among other products in Leamington, Ontario, for more than a century. When that plant closes next year, 740 jobs will be lost.

Mr. Mullen said the moves will consolidate manufacturing, "a critical step in our plan to ensure we are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible to become more competitive in a challenging environment, and to accelerate the company's future growth."

Following the shifts, Heinz will employ about 6,800 hourly and salaried workers at sites across Canada and the United States, he said.

"We reached this decision after thoroughly exploring extensive alternatives and options," Mr. Mullen said. "Heinz fully appreciates and regrets the impact our decision will have on employees and the communities in which these factories are located."

Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018.

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