Just days after Sleepy Eye wrapped up Buttered Corn Days, the company that donates all of the sweet cobs for the annual summer festival announced plans to shutter the local canning plant, laying off all full-time and seasonal workers with it.
Del Monte Foods Inc. on Tuesday notified the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development that it will permanently close the Sleepy Eye location at the end of this year’s harvest and packing season, shuttering a plant that opened in the Great Depression and has been a mainstay of the community for 89 years.
“The closing of Del Monte will have a tremendous impact on the community,” said Sleepy Eye Mayor Wayne Pelzel. “This will have an impact on the school, on housing, on just a whole ton of things in the community. We are really saddened by this news.”
The California-based company has scheduled the closure for on or around Oct. 21. All 69 full-time jobs and 294 seasonal positions will be eliminated. Layoffs will begin as soon as Oct. 2 and be staggered through next June as the plant finishes any remaining labeling, shipping and administrative work needed to close.
The closing is part of a broader decision by Del Monte’s parent company, Singapore-based Del Monte Pacific Limited, to sell or close many of its U.S. assets. In addition to the plant in Sleepy Eye, the company will end production at its Mendota, Ill., plant, and sell its facilities in Cambria, Wis., and Crystal City, Texas.
The production will be moved to Del Monte’s remaining U.S. plants.
“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,” Joselito D. Campos Jr., chief executive of Del Monte Pacific Limited, said in a statement. “We are committed to doing all we can to provide the affected employees with resources and support.”
It’s the latest southern Minnesota vegetable-canning plant to face closure as consumer preferences shift toward fresh or frozen produce. Seneca Foods Corp. closed its peas and corn processing plant in Rochester last year, citing shifting consumer trends.
Del Monte donated 5½ tons of sweet corn, free for the public, for Sleepy Eye’s annual Buttered Corn Days this past weekend. “They are always a contributor of any worthwhile project here in town,” Pelzel said.
The Sleepy Eye plant began operating in 1930 and produces more cases of canned peas and corn than any of the company’s other plants. It takes in crops from more than 300 growers covering more than 22,000 acres, according to Del Monte’s website.
Pelzel found out about the closure at the same time as members of the media.
“I’m not sure what Del Monte’s motivation is for selling this plant. We’ve always heard good things about this factory,” Pelzel said. “The straw of hope we hold onto is that someone else buys them out.”
If not, he added, “we are going to do everything in our power to help those employees find new employment. Certainly people need to have jobs.”
When running at full capacity during the summer season, the plant can employ up to 400 seasonal workers.
The workers are not represented by a union.
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767