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Paris' recent success in winning $45 million expansion of Campbell Soup probably saved the plant, mayor says

By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra.com

The recent successful effort by Paris officials to land a $45 million expansion of the local Campbell Soup plant took on extra significance this week.

The world’s largest soup maker announced Thursday that it is closing two of its U.S. plants – its oldest plant, in Sacramento, Calif., that has about 700 full-time workers, and a spice plant in South Plainfield, N.J., that has 27 employees.

“Actually we were the one to be shut down” until Paris officials out-maneuvered Campbell plants in Ohio and Michigan for the expansion, Paris mayor AJ Hashmi said,

I was told that we were ‘this close’ to it being us. I can tell you, we would have been reduced to a town of 10,000 people. So I am so happy you won’t believe it,” Hashmi told eParisExtra.com.

Company officials said Thursday that Paris is one of three Campbell Soup plants – along with Maxton, N.C., and Napoleon, Ohio — that will absorb production of the 65-year-old Sacramento plant – canned soup, Prego tomato sauce, V8 juice and more.

Ray Oldach

Ray Oldach, manager of the Paris plant, said he approached Hashmi earlier this year and told him Paris was in the running, along with plants in North Carolina and Michigan, for the $45 million expansion, including a new product line, new technology, and 68 new jobs.

“What do you need? You tell us,” Hashmi responded. From that point, Hashmi would not accept no as an answer. He told Oldach that Paris was going to get the expansion. Joining in the talks was Kenny Dority, who is one of five directors on the board of the Paris Economic Development Corporation.

While city officials in North Carolina and Michigan were still thinking about what they could offer, Hashmi and  Dority assured Oldach that Paris would do whatever Campbell Soup wanted, and more.

Dority brought a proposal to the full PEDC board, which quickly ratified it.

Paris officials “all came together,” Oldach said. “They came up with some tax incentives and some help from the training standpoint, something we’d never done before. The union also came forward and helped us out with some switching and work rules.”

Oldach added:

“I’ll tell you, when the folks back at Campbell Soup’s world headquarters at Camden, N.J., saw that package, they were so impressed that they almost decided on the spot to give the expansion to Paris. … It’s the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever been associated with at Campbell Soup.”

The Paris facility was chosen due to a “strong performance by the people at the plant, local leadership and good dialogue with the union,” Oldach said. “So many people came together to make this happen.”

Campbell Soup officials said the Paris plant’s new line should be ready for production in about 12 months.

The City of Paris, PEDC, Lamar County, and Paris Junior College joined in approving a tax abatement package.

The announcement came as Campbell looks to trim costs amid declining consumption of its canned soups. The New Jersey plant will close by March. The California plant will be closed down in stages, fully closing by July.

“These jobs are being eliminated.  They are not moving to another location,” Campbell’s company spokesman Anthony Sanzio said Thursday.

The announcement to close two plants comes as Campbell looks to freshen up its image with dozens of new soup flavors and sauces intended to lure younger consumers. Many of the new products come in pouches designed to convey a fresher feel, rather than the iconic steel cans that have long defined the company.

Those new pouches are manufactured with another party and are not made at Campbell’s soup plants.

Though Campbell makes other products such as Pepperidge Farm baked goods and V8 vegetable juices, soups account for half its revenue.

Over the past decade, overall canned soup consumption is down 13 percent, according to the research firm Euromonitor International, as fresh soups have become more widely available at supermarkets and restaurants. Campbell’s share of the market has also declined to 53 percent, down from 67 percent a decade earlier.

To expand into products with more growth potential, Campbell this summer purchased Bolthouse Farms for $1.55 billion. The company says the move will help it stake a claim in the fresh packaged food category, which is growing at a faster clip than the broader packaged food market.

Campbell Soup has about 19,900 employees globally.

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