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Del Monte to close Sleepy Eye plant

SLEEPY EYE — Just a couple of days after Del Monte Corporation donated more than five tons of sweet corn to the public at Buttered Corn Days in Allison Park — as it has for many years — the California-based company announced plans to close its largest peas and corn production plant in Sleepy Eye.

The company said production will cease at the plant on or about Oct. 21. Layoffs will start as soon as Oct. 2 and will be staggered through next June as the plant completes labeling, shipping and administrative work.

The plant now employs 22 salaried workers and 50 hourly employees, according to the company’s website. During the processing season that begins in early June and runs into the fall, up to 400 seasonal employees are needed.

“This decision has been difficult and has come after careful consideration. This restructuring is a necessary step for us to remain competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace. Our asset-light strategy will lead to more efficient and lower cost operations,” said Del Monte Pacific Limited Managing Director and CEO Joselito D. Campos, Jr.

The company announced production will cease at plants in Sleepy Eye and in Mendota, Illinois, at the end of the current pack season. Del Monte’s Cambria, Wisconsin, plant will be sold as an operating facility after the production season. The company will sell manufacturing assets at its Crystal City, Texas, plant and intends to transfer production at this site to outside locations later this year.

The Sleepy Eye plant began operation in 1930. More than 300 growers covering more than 22,000 acres provide crops to the facility.

Former Sleepy Eye plant superintendent Tim Schieffert, who worked at the plant from 1989 to 1999, talked about the plant closure.

“It was a great place to work. Sleepy Eye will miss this plant,” Schieffert said.

Sleepy Eye Public School Superintendent John Cselovszki said the plant closure will hit hard.

“Del Monte’s decision to close the plant in Sleepy Eye will adversely affect our community,” Cselovski said. “The school district has numerous families that are employed by the company, so we potentially lose many students attending our school. I’m sure our local farmers, trucking companies and our famous Corn Days will be impacted. We are hopeful a suitable buyer will resume operations.”

Del Monte’s Mendota, Illinois, plant was built in 1949 and covers 431 acres. Its fresh pack products include peas, peas and carrots, cream-style corn, whole kernel corn, mixed vegetables, corn specialities and lima beans.

Mendota, in north central Illinois, produces broth and dry beans outside the fresh packing season. It employs about 31 salaried and 106 regular hourly employees, with a peak seasonal headcount of about 550 workers.

Del Monte’s Crystal City, Texas, plant, located 110 miles from San Antonio, produces canned beets, carrots, potatoes, green beans, spinach and a variety of greens including kale. Located in the “Spinach Capital of the World,” the plant employs 90 full-time and 19 salaried employees. At peak production, there are about 300 employees. Production ran 11 months out of the year.

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