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Klondike parent company closing North Pinellas ice cream factory, laying off 210

PINELLAS PARK — The world's largest ice cream maker will close a plant here that pumps out frozen treats for Klondike, Good Humor and Popsicle, axing hundreds of jobs.

Global consumer-goods giant Unilever said Monday that about 210 workers at the plant, at 5400 118th Ave., will lose their jobs between September and the end of the year.

The firm plans to shift its ice cream production to plants in Tennessee and Missouri, where it has "invested heavily in technology … to build our brands and sustainably grow," company spokeswoman Jaime Stein said.

The layoffs were reported to Florida officials last week and made public Monday via a Worker Adjustment and Retraining and Notification Act notice. Employees, who were told of the closure two weeks ago, will be able to apply for jobs in the other plants, Stein said.

"There's no question that it's a difficult time," factory director Ken Fregeau said. "We're doing everything we can to work with our employees and give them as much information as possible."

The 55,000-square-foot factory was built in 1982 in an unincorporated industrial park a few blocks east of Pinellas Park High School, and Unilever paid $4.4 million to acquire the plant a decade later.

When Pinellas Park considered whether to annex the plant in 2003, a factory manager brought its council members celebratory Klondike bars. The annexation, which included sizable tax rebates, was later voted down.

Like Nestlé and Procter & Gamble, Unilever is one of the world's largest multinational consumer-goods firms, owning many of the biggest household names filling kitchens and grocery store shelves. The company's brands include bathroom giants Axe, Degree, Dove, Noxzema and Q-Tips; dinner staples like Lipton, Country Crock and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter; and dessert favorites Ben & Jerry's, Breyers and Choco Taco.

Sales of the firm's ice cream giants stumbled last year in the United States, which the company in a January report blamed in part on "high levels of low-priced competition." Unilever CEO Paul Polman said in a conference call that its massive ice cream portfolio was the "main culprit" to blame for curbing the company's profitability.

Nationwide retail sales of ice cream slid 1 percent last year, due largely to an improving economy, market researcher Euromonitor said in December. Newly confident Americans are opting instead to sate their cravings at ice cream parlors and restaurants.

Unilever's closure is only the latest hit to America's once-powerful sweets factories. Entenmann's closed its famed Long Island bakery this summer and laid off 178 workers, shifting jobs to the other plants of its parent company, Bimbo Bakeries USA, the nation's largest bakery firm.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or dharwell@tampabay.com. Follow @drewharwell.

Klondike parent company closing North Pinellas ice cream factory, laying off 210 07/21/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014 10:14pm]
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