Highbury Canco officially takes over Leamington Heinz plant

The tomato processing plant in Leamington quietly changed hands on the weekend.

The tomato processing plant in Leamington quietly changed hands on the weekend.

Highbury Canco officially took over the property Saturday, just after midnight.

That brought to an end more than a century of Heinz history in the town.

Sam Diab was the plant manager under the old regime, and he's the president of the new venture.

"As soon as that door closed, it was, 'OK. How do we make this thing viable, and how do we find the next best thing?'" Diab said. "I believe this is the next best thing."

Starting next month, Highbury Canco will produce a number of products - including tomato juice and beans, but not ketchup, for H.J. Heinz Co. The products Highbury Canco will produce will be sold under the Heinz label.

Approximately 250 workers have been hired, leaving several hundred more former employees out of a job.

"We're starting up a new business, but on Day 1, we're producing product and shipping it coast to coast throughout Canada. So we have to do that well, do it right, and very quickly, we'll be working into a growth mode," Diab said.

"There's a lot of opportunity for us here, and we're already speaking with the major grocers in Canada. We have some contacts internationally."

Leamington Mayor John Paterson says he has high hopes for the plant's new owners.

"They've done their part, I've done my part and now it's up to Highbury Canco to step up to the plate and I know they're excited about this, so we're looking forward," Paterson said.

At one point, Heinz employed more than 1,500. More recently it was about 740.

Heinz has been operating in Leamington for the past 105 years.

Mike Hicks is a former Heinz worker who just got hired by the new company.

"We all go our separate ways," he said. "Some of us got hired for the new company and other people are exploring new possibilities.

"I wish everyone good luck. It's pretty sad."