More than thirty years after Spitz sunflower seeds first sprouted in Alberta, the last factory in the province is set to shut down.
PepsiCo is closing the Bow Island processing plant in July, and laying off 53 workers from the small community of just 2,000 residents in the process.
“Most of our businesses are small businesses that employ anywhere from two to 10 to 20 people. We don’t have a lot of businesses that employ 50 or more. So this is going to hurt,” said Bow Island mayor Gordon Reynolds.
“The community as a whole will feel it, but our biggest concern is for those individuals.”
‘Tremendous Alberta story of entrepreneurship’
MLA Drew Barnes of Cypress-Medicine Hat describes Spitz’s history as a “tremendous Alberta story of entrepreneurship, of hard work, of success.”
The company was founded by Tom Droog, who arrived in Canada with his wife Emmy and just $125 to his name from the Netherlands in the ’70s.
He grew his small, southern Alberta sunflower farm, which he founded in 1982, into a multi-million dollar agricultural giant, eventually selling the company to PepsiCo in 2008.
PepsiCo shut down Spitz’s Medicine Hat location in 2016, moving the employees over to the Bow Island office.
In an emailed statement to CBC, the company said Spitz production will be moved to an existing partner in the U.S.
“This was a business decision based on an extensive evaluation of the long-term viability of this site and its ability to meet our increasing volume requirements for the brand, which will continue to play an important role in our North American portfolio,” the statement read.
The company also said it is committed to helping “our impacted associates” with financial support, access to financial counselling and job placement services.
Hoping for new business
The Bow Island plant, which is located about 300 kilometres southeast of Calgary, was upgraded just two years ago, and the mayor says it’s still in good shape.
Reynolds said he’d like to see the plant re-purposed and a new business going in the area, so affected employees could stay in Bow Island and Forty Mile county.
“Hopefully we can capitalize on some other opportunities and get these people back to work and keep them in the area,” he said.