February 19, 2018
Morgan Lowrie THE CANADIAN PRESS
MONTREAL – There was a time when the whole neighbourhood surrounding an east-end Montreal bakery would smell like baking Oreos.
But that era comes to an end this month when snack-maker Mondelez International closes its Montreal factory for good.
Union spokesman Pierre Grenier says many of the factory’s 454 employees had worked there for decades, and news of its closure came as “a blow.”
“It’s always hard, but people have done their mourning,” says Grenier, whose union represents building maintenance employees.
The big concrete building in the shadow of Olympic Stadium opened in 1956 and produced more than a billion of the famous black-and-white Oreo cookies each year.
In 2012, the factory held an event to celebrate the Oreo, where reporters were given a peek at the building’s industrial ovens, vats of sugary filling and tubs of the dark cookie dough.
Just four years later, in November 2016, the company announced the factory’s closure. After a drawn-out process, company spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati says the 300,000-square-foot plant is being put up for sale and its equipment moved and auctioned off.
The company’s employees, a handful of whom are still at work, were provided with support and career transition assistance, she wrote in an email.
The long closing process gave workers a chance to move on, Grenier says, adding that they have little hope that the institution could be revived.
“For sure it won’t be reopened, we don’t believe in miracles.”
The cookie and snack-maker is the latest on a laundry list of companies that have chosen to shutter their Montreal operations in recent years. Old Dutch Foods, Electrolux, Mabe and Energizer Holdings are among the others.
“We hear more about companies who are leaving than those who stay,” Grenier says.
But Steve Charters, the co-founder of Made in Montreal, says that the city’s manufacturing sector is fairly stable, despite some big-name companies pulling up roots.
“While there’s a few high-profile companies moving out of the city, especially larger ones, among small and medium there seems to be a stasis and a healthy turnover,” he says in a phone interview.
Charters, whose website promotes locally-made goods, says most of the employers who wanted to move elsewhere for cheaper wages have done so, and the others have good reasons to stay.
He says the sector is a mix of old-school manufacturers such as the nearly 100-year-old Samuelsohn suit company and newer startups led by brewers, distillers and even insect-based food companies.
And despite the sharp decline of industrial jobs since the 1990s, he believes the sector could be on the cusp of a resurgence in the next five to 10 years, buoyed by renewed interest in consuming local goods, a focus on developing environmentally sustainable goods, and new technologies such as 3D printing that are changing the way products are made.
“It may change, it may look a little bit different than it does today, but we think there’s tremendous potential going forward,” he says.
He says that while cities such as Montreal are increasingly promoting high-tech jobs, local and provincial governments need to understand that not every citizen will flourish as an app developer.
“They’re maybe not the sexiest or newest kind of jobs that people like to push, but they play a very valuable role in employing a diversity of people and employing people of all backgrounds,” he says.