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Meat Packer Closing Plant, Offering Early Retirement Plans

December 6, 1991

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Oscar Mayer Food Corp. plans to close a Louis Rich turkey processing plant in Tulare, Calif., resulting in 1,400 layoffs and early retirement offers for 338 salaried employees.

The closing is part of a broader restructuring in food operations at Kraft General Foods, the Philip Morris Companies Inc. unit that owns Oscar Mayer.

John Bowlin, president of the Madison-based Oscar Mayer, said Thursday that Tulare plant will be closed May 22 and cited disappointing sales of turkey products for the move.

Bowlin said the 12 percent annual sales growth enjoyed by Louis Rich turkey in the 1980s has shrunk to 2 percent to 3 percent, not enough to sustain the investment the company put into the California plant.

The company has three other Louis Rich plants in Iowa and North Carolina.

Philip Morris announced late last month that it planned to restructure its food operations to make them more efficient and save $750 million over the next five years.

The parent company said it planned to reduce its earnings by $275 million in the fourth quarter for the restructuring which it said would include consolidation of unspecified manufacturing facilities.

Nicholas Rolli, a spokesman for Philip Morris, said Friday that the Tulare plant closing was part of the restructuring plan but said he could not say how large a part.

Ironically, modern technology installed at the 2 1/2 -year-old Tulare plant made it vulnerable to closure because Kraft General Foods can adapt it to some other use more easily than at older facilities, officials said.

″It’s not a meat plant, it’s a food processing plant,″ vice president Al Backer said. ″It can be much more easily converted to another use.″

The retirement offer, open between Jan. 1 and March 1, 1992, is available to workers age 65 or older with five years of pension plan participation; age 55 or older with 10 years in the plan; and all workers with at least 30 years with the company.

The retirement bonus would boost a pension by adding five years onto the retiree’s service term, or the retiree could receive an additional one year of salary, spread out in the pension payment through a formula.

Kraft hasn’t decided yet what to do with the 315,000 square-foot Tularte facility but has told employees to seek other jobs because it might take a year or two to re-tool for something else.

″I think that without any doubt the preferred situation for us is to put a food operation in there,″ company spokesman Michael Mudd said.

The Tulare plant has been used to process sliced luncheon meats, ground turkey, fresh turkey cuts and breast of turkey for supermarket and food service sales.

A turkey feed mill operated by Kraft at Goshen a few miles north also will be shut down, idling 40 more workers.

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