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Heinz plans to ramp up production at Ohio plant

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 2:18 p.m.

H.J. Heinz Co. plans to invest $28 million in an Ohio frozen-food plant and hire 249 workers there as it shifts production from three North American plants it is closing as part of a cost-cutting initiative.

Pittsburgh-based global food giant Heinz said its plant in Massillon, Ohio — which is about 25 miles south of Akron — will become a “Frozen Food Center of Excellence.”

The news follows last week's disclosure by Heinz that it will close plants in South Carolina, Idaho and Canada during the next six to eight months and lay off 1,350 workers. The company, which was taken private in a $28 billion deal in June, had laid off 600 office workers in North America, including 350 people in Pittsburgh.

In the plant closing announcement, Heinz said it would add 470 employees across five factories in Ohio, Iowa, California and Canada, and improve capacity at those plants to accept work from the three shuttered factories.

Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen said the Massillon plant employs about 400 people.

“Heinz is committed to Ohio and excited for the growth that will come to Massillon as part of this significant investment,” he said in a written statement.

State and local officials in Ohio offered Heinz tax credits and other incentives to expand. Mullen declined to comment on the incentives.

Connie Wehrkamp, a spokeswoman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said she couldn't discuss tax breaks for Heinz because they have not been formally approved.

Heinz has three plants in Ohio, including the one in Massillon, none of which will be closed as part of the company's consolidation, Wehrkamp said. Heinz does not have any plants in Western Pennsylvania.

Heinz plans to add 25 jobs at a plant in Fremont, which is the company's largest ketchup factory and is about 40 miles east of Toledo, Mullen said.

Mullen declined to comment on whether there were plans for the company's plant in Mason, near Cincinnati, which produces condiments.

Heinz was acquired by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, an investment firm run by Brazilian billionaires known for aggressively cutting costs at companies it buys.

Expense reductions were expected in the wake of the buyout because the investors nearly tripled Heinz's debt from about $5 billion to about $14 billion.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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