Berwick meat packing plant to close

Larsen Packers Ltd., the Maple Leaf Foods-owned plant in Berwick, N.S., is closing and throwing nearly 300 people out of work.

Larsen Packers Ltd., the Maple Leaf Foods-owned plant in Berwick, N.S., is closing, throwing nearly 300 people out of work.

"Regrettably, we announced that a decision had been made to close the Larsen facility effective April of 2011," Rick Young, the executive vice-president of transformation of Maple Leaf Consumer Foods, said Wednesday.

The facility — which produces bacon, ham, sliced meats, sausage and deli products primarily under the Larsen and private label brands — will begin winding down operations in February.

The processing currently being done at Larsen will be moved to three other plants in Canada, including the one in Moncton, N.B., Young said.

"For us to compete — for this industry to compete — we have to take costs out and increase scale," Young told reporters.

John Prall, the mayor of Berwick, said he was shocked when he heard the news on Tuesday.

"It's bad news for our town. It's bad news for our people in our surrounding county. We have about 300 people employed here and it's not a good day for anyone," he said.

Workers had feared there could be layoffs or the plant could close altogether as part of consolidation efforts by the company.

Some long-term workers expressed their disappointment.

"It's not that it was something we didn't expect to come. It's sad, it's very sad. I've been at the plant for 16 years and it is very sad," Sharon Hamilton told CBC News.

Prall acknowledged the closure will be a huge blow to the community.

"As far as our town is concerned, it's going to mean a financial loss, of course, tax wise. It's going hurt our merchants on our sales," he said.

"I'm more concerned about the people who are here employed. There's about, as I said, 300 people who are going to be without jobs and at this time of year that's pretty devastating. Very devastating."

Prall said the town wants to work quickly to find a way to get the plant back up and running in some capacity.

"One of the things that we're looking at is working very closely with Maple Leaf Foods as to what can happen here with this plant and also our economic development people provincially, federally, and I've been in contact with quite a number of people already," said Prall.

Maple Leaf Foods announced on Oct. 6 it would undertake a major reorganization, closing some of its 23 plants across Canada. Timelines and locations for future plant closures have not yet been completed, Young said.

In part, the company blamed the strong Canadian dollar for a downturn in sales.

With files from The Canadian Press