Feb. 11--Mondelez International Inc., Fair Lawn's biggest private employer and the borough's top payer of local real estate taxes, is going to invest tens of millions of dollars to modernize the old Nabisco bakery, a landmark on Route 208 since the 1950s, the company said.
The investment plan for the bakery that makes Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies is part of a consolidation strategy that will include the closing early next year of a Philadelphia bakery, affecting 350 employees.
"I feel bad for the people in Philadelphia, but in Fair Lawn we're ecstatic," said John Cosgrove, mayor of the borough where Mondelez employs about 500 people. The company paid $876,363 in local real estate taxes last year.
"It's a Fair Lawn landmark, and we are happy it's going to continue in the industrial park," said Cosgrove, who was concerned last year about rumors that the plant would be downsized or shut down.
The company said Thursday that a total of $130 million would be invested in two of its cookie and cracker bakeries, in Fair Lawn and Richmond, Va.
"This investment offers us an exciting opportunity to further improve the overall effectiveness, efficiency and the competitiveness of our manufacturing network, with a focus on ... accelerating growth for the biscuit category," Cindy Waggoner, a company vice president, said. She described the move as "bittersweet" in a statement. "It's always a difficult decision to close a manufacturing facility," Waggoner said.
Mondelez did not break down how much of the $130 million would be spent on each bakery, and a company spokeswoman Friday would not provide any specifics on what the modernization plans entail or if they include automation and staff reductions.
"In the coming days and weeks and months, we will be working on further details on the investment," said Laurie M. Guzzinati, the snack maker's regional director of corporate and government affairs. The plan "reinforces the role that Fair Lawn plays in our network and is a further deepening of the roots we have in the state," she said.
Consolidating supply chain
Consolidation of the company's East Coast cookie and cracker bakeries is part of a broader plan to make its global supply chain more cost-efficient, put savings back into the company to support future growth, and focus on core products such as Oreos and Ritz crackers, Guzzinati said.
Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelez, which was split off from Kraft Foods Inc. in 2012, is the latest bearer of the Nabisco brand, which has been a New Jersey fixture for decades. Mondelez has its U.S. headquarters in East Hanover, which was once Nabisco's global headquarters.
Mondelez, which had $35 billion in revenue in 2012, sells its products, which include Cadbury chocolate, Chips Ahoy cookies and Trident gum, in 165 countries.
The old Nabisco bakery in Fair Lawn is the only plant that makes Barnum Animal Crackers packaged in circus train boxes with string handles.
The bakery was Bergen County's largest emitter of air pollution in 2011, according to the latest available data from the federal government, despite installation in the previous year of catalytic oxidizer to reduce emissions.
The bakery uses ammonium bicarbonate as a leavening agent, resulting in emissions that contain ammonia, which at high levels irritates the throat and lungs.
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