Q&A

Bow Island mayor looks ahead after PepsiCo shuts down Alberta Spitz sunflower seed factory

Spitz sunflower seed facility was a victim of surpassing its own growth strategy, says Bow Island Mayor Gordon Reynolds after local employer shuts down.

'We have to find a home for those folks,' mayor says after plant closure results in loss of 53 jobs

Bow Island Mayor Gordon Reynolds wants to get back the jobs lost with the closure of the Spitz plant. (Gordon Reynolds)

Bow Island Mayor Gordon Reynolds is looking for a new plan following the news that PepsiCo is shutting down the local sunflower seed processing plant, resulting in the loss of 53 jobs.

Reynolds spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday about how he hopes to bring some of those lost jobs back to town.

Q: What happens now to the Spitz plant?

A: We're all asking that question, but [the reality is that] PepsiCo has made this decision — and now we're focusing on what to do to move on and get those jobs back in our community.

Tom and Emmy [Droog] sold [the Spitz plant] to PepsiCo in 2008. Mrs. Droog had become ill — they were looking at retirement — but Tom was also looking for a company that would really grow the brand. That was his dream, but they realized they needed to step aside.

PepsiCo brought that [possibility] to the table. Their distribution network and their size gave them access to even more markets than Tom had developed — certainly in the U.S. — and that's, I think, part of what's happened here. 

What Pepsi is telling me is that they've really been growing the brand in the U.S. and seeing growth there, and they need to really ramp up their production. [They] didn't think they could do that at this particular site and have chosen to move closer to that particular [American] market.

PepsiCo is set to close down the Spitz factory in southeastern Alberta. (Google Maps)

Q: It's ironic that growth is what forced the company out.

A: That irony struck me quite quickly when I heard Pepsi's reasons for moving.

Q: Any chance of another sunflower company taking it over?

A: Certainly that particular plant is our current focus. We've got some opportunities here on the horizon in protein extraction and other ag products processing. We're hoping Pepsi will work with us in getting that plant back on its feet and operating, doing something else. They likely wouldn't want a competitor [however].

This segment from 2000 follows sunflower seed producer Spitz as it attempts to expand to lucrative Quebec market. 12:29

At the same time, we'd be open in the community — whether it's [in] Bow Island or the County of Forty Mile — to have another snack food company come in. We grow lots of great products here: pulse crops and things like that. So the door's open. Come on in.

Q: What about those 53 jobs that were lost? That's a lot in a small community like Bow Island.

A: We have to find a home for those folks. Understanding that some of them have been offered opportunities at other PepsiCo facilities in Taber — and that's great for them. That is our big concern, actually, is those individuals. But we'd hate to see them leave the community. So we want to try and replace those jobs, and we're constantly looking for other business opportunities to help our town and the outlying community grow — certainly around ag processing. That's our bread and butter.

The Spitz sunflower seed processing plant in Bow Island, Alta., is being shut down by PepsiCo. Bow Island's mayor, Gordon Reynolds, hopes to lure other employers to the small town. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)

Q: I imagine Pepsi is not a popular drink around town right now.

A: There's some grumbling. There's a few smart remarks about banning their products — similar to our B.C. wine situation — but we have to remember that Pepsi are [also] the owners of the Hostess plants in Taber and they're processing a lot of potatoes grown in this area. So we're not going to cut off our noses to spite our face.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca