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MINNEAPOLIS Plant that makes Cream of Wheat to be shut down



Published: Sun, June 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A corporate takeover led to the closing of the 74-year-old food plant.

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL STAR TRIBUNE

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ed Bradley walked into the Cream of Wheat plant in February 1972 sporting the short haircut of a young man fresh out of the Navy.

Next February he'll walk out of the plant for the last time, grayer, wiser and more than a little sad.

"After 30 years, there are a lot of memories of the people here," said Bradley, 50, who takes containers to the line and keeps track of production at the Minneapolis plant. "We've gone to the track and golfed, fished and hunted together. We've partied together and held each other's kids."

Shutting down: Kraft Foods North America, which became the plant's owner in December, announced it will close the plant in February. The plant, the world's sole producer of Cream of Wheat cereal, employs 120 workers. Many are well along in their careers, earning wages in the range of $18 an hour plus benefits at the unionized plant.

"There is a lot of concern, especially among those in their 50s," Bradley said. "You wouldn't want to be me."

Kraft, based in Northfield, Ill., plans to move Cream of Wheat production to two other plants; its nonunion facility in Jonesboro, Ark., will make cook-on-stove Cream of Wheat and its union plant in Cobourg, Ontario, will get the mix-in-bowl instant varieties.

Saving space: Kraft's parent, Philip Morris Cos., acquired Nabisco, maker of Cream of Wheat, late last year. A study was done of all Kraft and Nabisco plants -- slightly more than 100, about half unionized. It indicated Cream of Wheat could be moved to take advantage of excess capacity, said Cathy Pernu, Kraft spokeswoman. No decision has been made yet on the future home of the Knox and Nutrajoint gelatin operations from the Minneapolis plant, she said.

Kraft plans to sell the five-story Minneapolis plant. Pernu declined to discuss the building's asking price or the estimated cost savings from the closing. Kraft, which will be spun off from Philip Morris in an $8 billion initial public offering announced this month, is also closing plants in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Henderson, Nev.

The Cream of Wheat brand has struggled in recent years because of consumers' desire for convenience foods such as granola bars and other eat-on-the-run breakfast items. The Minneapolis plant makes about 56 million pounds of Cream of Wheat annually, down from 70 million pounds eight years ago.

Prospects not bad: Plant employees probably won't have trouble finding jobs, said Jerry Ockenfels, business agent for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Local 1G, but "there aren't many at this level. Many plant jobs pay $10 per hour, with benefits that are only half of what they are here."

As for Bradley, he said he expects to find a new job, but isn't sure what it will be. He said the test of Kraft's concern for employees will come now.

"I hope this ends up being the honorable, gracious way out rather than the leather boot."




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