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ConAgra makes ‘difficult decision’ to close nutrition bar plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan

By Elaine WATSON , 29-Jan-2014

ConAgra will close its private label health and nutrition bar manufacturing facility at 4490 44th Street SE Grand Rapids, Michigan, this summer less than four years after acquiring it, with the loss of 260 jobs.

Production will cease in May with the plant scheduled to officially close in July, with production moving to ConAgra’s plants in Azusa, California, and Lakeville, Minnesota.

However R&D work will continue at Grand Rapids through February 2015.

A spokeswoman said employees had been notified and that ConAgra Foods was “committed to providing benefits and services that will help employees transition from the company or to other manufacturing plants within the company”.

Our objective is to operate as efficiently as possible to maintain a competitive cost structure

Asked whether ConAgra would be taking on new staff at Azusa and Lakeville, she told FoodNavigator-USA: “It unknown at this point whether new positions may be necessary. We will continue to make hiring decisions based on the needs of the business.”

Asked why the plant is closing and whether claims reportedly made by Kentwood Mayor Steven Kepley that the Grand Rapids site was operating at 30% capacity are correct, she said:  “In order to operate as cost effectively and efficiently as possible, we have had to make the difficult decision to close the Grand Rapids plant.

“The decision...  was made as part of efforts to consolidate our private brands health and nutrition bars business. Our objective is to operate as efficiently as possible to maintain a competitive cost structure. The changes we’ve announced will help align us with the current needs of the business.”

 But she added: “We’re confident about the future of our health and nutrition bars business.”

The affected employees at this facility are not represented by any union

ConAgra Foods took over the Grand Rapids site in spring 2010 as part of a deal to buy Elan Nutrition, a privately-held formulator and manufacturer of snack and nutrition bars.  Two years later, it added a production line as part of an $8m expansion at the site, and hired 40 new staff.

In a warn notice the company filed with the State of Michigan this week, Lynette Dragoo, the plant’s human resources manager, said the company would cut jobs in five phases, starting on March 31.

She added: “The affected employees at this facility are not represented by any union.” 

Omaha-based ConAgra became a major player in private label following its acquisition of Ralcorp in January 2013, but is also a leading player in the branded grocery market with products such as Hebrew National hot dogs and Hunt's canned vegetables.

It also supplies frozen potato, vegetable, spice and grain products to restaurants, foodservice operators and commercial customers.