24 employees out of work
BLOOMFIELD -- A Nova Scotia produce company is packing up and going home after a failed attempt to turn around a struggling Prince Edward Island sandwich plant.
Kings Produce Processing Ltd., from Middleton, NS, took over the operation of the Atlantic Prepared Foods plant in Bloomfield in March, 2011. This year the company won a contract, valued at up to $3 million, to prepare boxed lunches for CFB Gagetown. The bulk of that contract was to be filled in Bloomfield.
But even that was not enough to make the plant profitable.
Workers were notified last month that the plant would be closing by the end of October. Monday was the plant’s final day of production and Jeremy Hunter, Chief Operating Officer for the company, said all 24 workers remained with the operation right to the end.
A job fair was held at the plat earlier this month but Hunter said he is unaware of how many of the workers have found alternate employment. Some, he said, were hoping for employment at the call center across the parking lot.
“It’s really as simple as we couldn’t make it a viable option,” Hunter said in laying out Kings Produce’s decision to close the plant and give up the Gagetown contract with the federal government. He said the contract cannot be filled from the Middleton plant because the contract needs to be filled in a plant that has a federal meat license.
“We’ve gone through the process: talking to customers and talking to suppliers and giving notice to employees,” Hunter said. “Now the customers have moved to new suppliers.”
He said the company offered the plant to other business entities without success. Their lease of the Province of P.E.I. building ends at the end of October. He said the province has given tours of the plant to prospective tenants.
“The plant, essentially was bankrupt and closing two and a half years ago by the previous operator; they were a customer of ours,” Hunter said in explaining how King’s Produce got into the sandwich-making business. “We thought that it may be a good extension to our current business and we had hoped we could turn it and make it so that it was a viable, stand-alone facility.”
Things did not turn out the way they had hoped and the plant couldn’t get back up to full production.
“As much as we made good progress, it wasn’t enough,” Hunter said in an interview from the Bloomfield plant where he and remaining workers were packing up packaging material and raw product. “It wasn’t an easy decision; it wasn’t taken lightly, but it gets to a point where you have to make those decisions or they get made for you, because the numbers just don’t work, and you can only go so long and then the decision gets made one way or the other. That’s really where we found ourselves.”