New Brunswick

Moosehead Breweries expanding

A $20-million expansion and upgrade is underway at Moosehead Breweries, but what it will mean for employees remains unclear.

A $20-million expansion project at Moosehead Breweries is underway.

The company is adding onto its main bottling line to include new labelers, as well as more modern equipment for packing, inspecting and moving products.

It's a "very significant investment for our business and for our family, and for Saint John and for New Brunswick," said Moosehead president Andrew Oland.

And it comes during a tough time in the industry, he said.

"It's certainly been an absolutely dreadful, miserable — take any adjective you want — for beer sales, between crummy weather and the high price of gas, but we're a multi-generational business and we're making decisions for the long term," Oland said.

"We're not thinking about the next quarter, or even the next year.

"This is a long-term decision and when businesses look at things over the long term, they make the appropriate investment decisions."

Impact on jobs unclear

Oland said the recent challenges are all the more reason to upgrade the plant and make it more productive — though he admits the new machines may also bring job cuts down the line.

"It's definitely possible, yes."

As for how many employees could be affected, Oland said the company is still working that out.

'Some say it could be it could be up to 50. We don't know.'— Bill Farren, Moosehead employee

"That's something we're still looking at and still going through all the numbers based on the potential for retirements and things of that nature," he said.

Officials plan to look into the possible effects on the workforce once the equipment is installed in the new year, Oland added.

The uncertainty concerns longtime workers, such as Bill Farren, who's also a city councillor.

"The growth of any industry in the community is great, but on the flip side, when you modernize, sometimes job losses occur," said Farren, who has been with the brewery for 37 years.

He said the company has been open about the changes, but many workers are on edge while they wait for more information.

"There's different rumours, but as far as rumours go, some say it could be it could be up to 50. We don't know. We don't know if there's going to be one job lost until we get it going and see how it works out, there's no way of telling."

Construction for the expansion is expected to be done by January, then the new equipment will be installed, starting in February. Production lines will be shut down during that phase, which is expected to take about seven weeks.