Heinz closing Leamington, Ont., operations

Composite image of Heinz ketchup bottles. (QMI Agency)

Composite image of Heinz ketchup bottles. (QMI Agency)


, Last Updated: 8:18 PM ET

Ontario is losing a processing giant and 740 jobs with the announcement Thursday that H.J. Heinz is shutting down its operation in Leamington, Ont., next summer.

Leamington is Heinz's second largest plant in the world.

Workers at the plant were given the news Thursday afternoon.

Heinz established the Leamington operations in 1909, its first outside of the U.S.

Heinz was bought earlier this year and taken private by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital.

In October, McDonald's Corp. announced it was cutting its relationship with Heinz.

The company's two other Canadian plants are in St. Marys, Ont., and Toronto. In total, the company employs about 1,200 people in Canada.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who doubles as agriculture minister, was pointedly missing as the Heinz news filtered out, critics on Twitter noted.

The Heinz plant looms large -- physically and economically -- in Leamington, pop. 28,000, where the company is the largest employer and even the arena is named after it. Roadsides leading to Leamington are littered each fall with tomatoes blown from the massive shipments to the plant.

Conservative MPP Ernie Hardeman, the Tory agriculture critic at Queen's Park, called the news "devastating."

"This is not a sign of jobs increasing -- it's a sign of we can't seem to get people to invest in this climate and this economy," said Hardeman, a former provincial agriculture minister.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement calling the plant closure a devastating blow to workers in Leamington and their families. She put part of the blame on the federal government.

“It’s been clear for some time that government policy, especially federal changes to packaging and labelling, put the future of this plant at risk. New Democrats have worked hard to ensure that jobs and investment stay in Ontario and have called on the government for action to ensure this plant and others like it can continue to operate," Horwath said.

The Heinz announcement is one of several recent Ontario processing plant closures, including a sweet corn and pea canning factory in Exeter and a fruit-canning plant near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Cereal maker Kellogg announced last week it's axing 121 jobs in London amid falling sales of the breakfast cereals it makes there.

In the letter given to employees Thursday, Heinz said it had evaluated all of its North American operations. The company is also closing two plant in the U.S.

"The decision is not a reflection on the commitment of our employees or the quality of the product you make. It is based primarily on excess capacity in our North American manufacturing system," the Heinz letter to employees says.

Heinz said it recognized the announcement is difficult news to hear.

"We want you to know this decision was not made in haste and numerous alternatives and options were explored before taking the action."