Life Savers moves U.S. operations to Canada

Published April 7, 2003

HOLLAND (AP) - After a 36-year run, the last Life Savers to be made in the United States are rolling out of Michigan.

The lone U.S. factory that makes the candy will close Friday as Kraft Foods Inc. consolidates its entire Life Savers production at a Canada factory.

Former employee Joyce Van Dam says the sweet scents, and memories, gradually have diminished during the months since Kraft announced its decision to close the plant. "It's kind of an empty feeling whenever you pass there," she told The Holland Sentinel.

Kraft's decision to move Life Savers operations to a 900,000 square-foot facility in Mount Royal, Quebec, means the loss of 600 jobs and Holland's third-largest taxpayer. Only 70 workers remain. Some will stay on for cleaning and security until the building officially is sold, said Kraft spokeswoman Cathy Pernu.

Underutilization of the 450,000-square-foot Holland plant and lower Canadian sugar prices were cited as factors in the move.

Pam Geurink worked at Life Savers for 21 years before leaving last October when hard candy rolls production shut down. In the months after the closing announcement, Geurink said it was tough coming to work as the machines and workers who cranked out lollipops and fruit rolls left. "It was heartbreaking to see the jobs being taken away," she said.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 822 negotiated a two-year contract with Kraft that provided a severance package for its 558 members and the U.S. Department of Labor agreed to provide job search and financial assistance.

But the lost jobs also mean lost tax revenue for Holland, its schools and Allegan County.

Holland assessor Glen Beekman says Kraft paid an estimated $1.2 million in taxes to the area last year.

Kraft is expected to pay the city nearly $420,000 as part of a tax exemption Holland originally gave to Nabisco for Life Savers building improvements, equipment and machinery in 1997.

"If there is any positive news in a bad story, it is that they have every intention of making good on the terms of the agreement," Holland Mayor Al McGeehan said.

Holland-based Grubb & Ellis-Focus Properties Inc., which has been marketing the plant for Kraft, has said it is working on agreements with investors interested in purchasing the building and possibly leasing space for a number of industrial companies.

Geurink said even if the building is purchased, Holland is losing a piece of tradition. But former Life Savers employees will not forget the plant, and plan to stay in touch with a monthly breakfast.

"You just don't wash away 20-something years of friendship," she said.