A major buyer of Ontario-grown processing tomatoes announced yesterday that it will close by next spring. While the news wasn’t entirely unexpected, the confirmation that the Leamington-based H.J. Hienz tomato processing facility would close within a few months has devastated an industry and a community.
The plant, which Heinz says is the second largest of its kind in the world, currently employs over 700 people full time and up to 1,000 during peak production throughout the year. What’s more, the Leamington plan took in roughly 40% of the tomato production in the area. Some of the processing will move to another plant closer to Toronto, however the raw product used to run that facility will no longer be sourced from Ontario growers. Heinz, instead, will bring in tomato paste made in California.
Bruce Shackleton, chair of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, said that the plant closure doesn’t just have a major impact on the plant’s employees, but also has a tremendous impact on the nearly 50 tomato growers who have been supplying the plant. “The price of tomatoes in southwestern Ontario is competitive with buying from (other areas of North America) because of investments that farmers themselves made to ensure they were long-term, reliable suppliers to the Heinz plant,” he says.
Farmers who supplied the plant have invested in irrigation, tiling and specialized equipment solely for producing processing tomatoes.
The closure comes just months after Heinz was bought buy two investment companies for $28 billion. Plant closures were also announced in South Carolina and Indiana.