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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, August 22, 2019 1:00 am

Edy's distribution site to lose 40 employees

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Nestle Dreyer's Ice Cream Co. is eliminating 40 jobs in its local Edy's distribution center but leaving a large workforce intact, a corporate spokeswoman said late Wednesday afternoon.

The factory and distribution center at 3426 Wells St. will remain open, she said. As of August 2018, Nestle employed 434 in Fort Wayne, according to Greater Fort Wayne Inc. data.

The correction was offered after another Nestle official provided conflicting information to state officials, who made it public, causing local confusion.

Laura Davenport, Nestle's corporate communications manager, emailed in response to an online posting that said the facility planned to eliminate 69 jobs before closing at the end of this year.

“The WARN notice you saw was inaccurate,” Davenport wrote to The Journal Gazette. “To clarify, the Nestle ice cream factory in Fort Wayne is NOT closing, nor is the distribution center that is at the same site.”

“The headcount at the distribution center will be reduced by 40 employees,” she added.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice, which was dated Aug. 16, said: “The entire facility will be closed, and all employees at the facility will be impacted.”

The WARN Act requires companies planning mass firings or layoffs to notify state and local officials at least 60 days before the effective date.

Davenport said the WARN notice sent to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development corresponds to an announcement Nestle made in May, announcing plans to simplify its “route-to-market for (its) pizza and ice cream businesses.”

In the restructuring, Nestle USA will transition in phases from its frozen direct-store-delivery network to a warehouse model, which it already uses for frozen meals and snacks. The yearlong shift is scheduled to begin this quarter.

Steve Presley, chairman and CEO of Nestle USA, announced the change in May. Officials said in a news release “the transition is part of the company's broader efforts to transform its organization to accelerate growth and win in the market.”

Presley said at that time that the “decision came after careful consideration” and is “critical to achieve our business goals.”

Employees in the company's sales and supply chain will be affected by the closure of eight company-owned frozen distribution centers and frozen inventory transfer points, he said.

“These employees have worked incredibly hard to serve our customers,” Presley said in May. “Treating them with respect through this process is a top priority for us, and we are committed to doing all we can to provide them information, resources and support.”

Nestle USA acquired a majority stake in Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc. for about $2.4 billion in 2002. Dreyer's ice cream is marketed under the Dreyer's brand in the western United States and as Edy's in the East.

Edy's has experienced steady growth in Fort Wayne, including adding $18 million in equipment in 2014 and investing $4.5 million in an expansion and renovation project in 2013.

But the company's history on Wells Street hasn't always been topped with whipped cream and sprinkles.

In 2014, neighbors of the operation complained to Fort Wayne City Council about light and noise emanating from Edy's plant when council members were considering a tax abatement on the equipment upgrade. The company was awarded the tax break.

And in 2013, Edy's was one of the organizations appealing property tax assessments. The Allen County assessor's office had valued the property at $10 million.

sslater@jg.net