Nabisco revives Shore plant Grey Poupon and A1 replace Chun King as Cambridge products

June 01, 1996|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

About a year ago, a Cambridge food manufacturing plant closed and sent home 173 workers.

Today, at the same Eastern Shore plant, state, local and business officials will gather to mark the return of the plant's former owner that has put to work almost as many people.

Hunt-Wesson Inc. closed the plant, which made canned Chinese food under the Chun King name, last June. Nabisco, which had sold the Eastern Shore plant in 1989, repurchased it last August for a reported price of $1.3 million. It now employs 160 people -- 65 more than the company's original estimate.

John Barrows, a company spokesman, said employment is higher because Nabisco redesigned the plant to make room for four lines of products instead of the two originally expected. The plant makes A1 Steak Sauce, Grey Poupon Mustard, Regina line of vinegar and College Inn broths.

"What we were committed to from the outset was Grey Poupon and A1," he said. "There was fair degree of certainty about College Inn, and Regina was an unknown."

Douglas Conant, group vice president of Parsipanny, N.J.-based Nabisco, part of RJR Nabisco Inc., credits government support with easing the decision to re-open the plant.

The state provided $1.2 million from its Sunny Day Fund and a $150,000 industrial training grant. The city of Cambridge and Dorchester County gave the company tax breaks worth about $360,000. "It was additional incentive to do what we already wanted to do, which was to return to East Coast production" in a plant and area that the company liked, Conant said. The incentives "closed the deal."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening will join local government and company officials today for a ribbon-cutting at the plant, which opened in December with about 60 employees and slowly climbed to its current level. Glendening is expected to cite the project as "a perfect example" of a partnership between government and industry and a victory for the economy of the Eastern Shore.

Cambridge Mayor David Wooten, who estimated that the jobs pay about $8 an hour, said the plant would help lower the town's 12 percent unemployment rate. "Anytime you have an organization come in and put that many people to work, there's going to be a positive effect," he said.

For Cambridge and Nabisco, the plant is something of a circuitous comeback story.

RJR Nabisco sold the Chun King operation and the Cambridge plant to YHS Corp. of Singapore in 1989.

In turn, YHS sold the Chun King name and trademark to Hunt-Wesson, a California-basedcompany that is part of ConAgra Inc., a $23 billion conglomerate that makes Healthy Choice foods and controls Chun King's frozen-product line.

But YHS continued to own the 500,000-square-foot plant, which had been in operation since 1962. Hunt-Wesson Inc. moved production of Chun King products to Ohio, closing the plant. Then, Nabisco bought the plant from YHS Corp.

Nabisco, which has annual sales of $7.7 billion, makes 8,000 products worldwide under 200 brand names, including Oreo cookies, Planter's peanuts and Ritz crackers. It has 48,000 workers in the United States.

Before the renovation, three of the Cambridge plant's products -- A1, Grey Poupon and Regina -- were manufactured in California. College Inn had been produced in the Cambridge plant under an agreement between Chun King and Nabisco.

High inventories and production elsewhere allowed suspension of production of College Inn, Barrows said.

Some of the plant's employees are former Chun King employees and others were Nabisco workers from elsewhere, Barrows said. "We started from scratch," he said. "But, obviously, one of the reasons we bought the plant was the area was attractive and there was a good base of employment."

Pub Date: 6/01/96

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