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Nabisco factory in N.J. may close, company says

Since 1958, driving down Route 208 in Fair Lawn past the Nabisco factory meant the sweet smell of freshly baked cookies wafting into your car, making the likely terrible commute that much better.

But the Nabisco factory, part of Mondelēz International, Inc., might be closing soon, according to a company spokesperson.

The iconic plant, which has been open for 62 years, may close as a way of diminishing the company’s geographic footprint and due to outdated manufacturing facilities and infrastructure, said Laurie Guzzinati, a spokeswoman for Mondelez. No decisions have been made, but the international food and beverage company was considering closing the plant, leaving just two facilities on the East Coast, she said.

“First and foremost this is just a consideration,” said Guzzinati. “No decision has been made. It is early days.”

If the company does decide to close the Fair Lawn plant, the closure would not happen before mid-2021, she said.

The Nabisco factory, which towers over the highway and is the tallest building in Fair Lawn, has added to the borough’s identity, filling the air with the crisp and warm smell of cookies and other baked goods. The Nabisco sign on the building greets you just ahead of the aromas.

The plant produces baked goods under the Nabisco brand, including staples such as Oreo, Lorna Doone and Teddy Grahams.

Last Thursday, representatives from Mondelez contacted the unions representing employees at the Fair Lawn facility, along with the Atlanta, Georgia plant, to discuss the potential closure of both facilities, said Guzzinati. There are currently approximately 600 employees at the Fair Lawn plant, said Guzzinati.

Across New Jersey, the company employs an additional 1,500 people, she said. The North American and U.S. region business is headquartered in East Hanover, said Guzzinati.

“The way consumers are shopping and snacking is changing rapidly, and meeting these evolving needs requires us to make our products in more flexible, agile and efficient ways,” Glen Walter, executive vice president and president of the North America business for Mondelez, said in a statement. “As part of our commitment to robust U.S. manufacturing, we have invested nearly $700 million in our U.S. biscuit bakeries since 2012. Despite these investments, we are looking for our U.S. biscuit manufacturing footprint to evolve in order to accelerate innovation and growth so that we can continue to strengthen our leadership in snacking.”

The announcement from Mondelez brought immediate pushback from state and local officials who hope the company can avoid closing the Nabisco plant that has been part of Bergen County’s skyline and Fair Lawn’s history. Representatives from Mondelez and the union representing Fair Lawn employees met with Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Fair Lawn Mayor Kurt Peluso.

“It really took me by surprise,” said Peluso. “It’s been an iconic part of Fair Lawn since 1960 and my whole life. One of the best parts that we love about living in Fair Lawn is that it smells like fresh baked cookies. That smell equates to hundreds of jobs.”

The potential closure would significantly impact Fair Lawn residents who work at the plant or know people who do, said Peluso. Additionally, many employees from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia commute to the plant, bringing an influx of business to Fair Lawn’s restaurants and stores, he said.

Fair Lawn was previously faced with the possibility of the Nabisco plant closing a few years ago, said Peluso. Mondelez at the time was deciding between closing facilities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or Richmond, Virginia, along with the Fair Lawn plant, he said.

Ultimately, the company decided to shutter the Philadelphia facility, leading to a collective sigh of relief for employees, many of whom were Fair Lawn residents or from the area, said Peluso.

“Which led us to believe they’d make some big investments in Fair Lawn – which they did – and that’d we be good in the long run,” said Peluso.

Faced once again with the prospect of the plant closing, Peluso and officials like Gottheimer were hoping to use an increased productivity amid the pandemic as a reason to keep the Fair Lawn plant open.

“These employees are fantastic, especially with COVID,” said Peluso. “It’s really disheartening that these employees have the potential of losing their jobs because of something really outside of their control.

“We’re going to be fighting to keep them here in Fair Lawn,” he added.

In a statement, Gottheimer said he’d be requesting a detailed briefing on the reasons behind potentially closing the plant, while urging the company to reconsider.

“The closing of this facility would have a devastating impact on 600 hardworking men and women and their families right here in North Jersey — workers who may no longer be able to put food on their tables in the midst of a global pandemic,” Gottheimer said in a statement. “They have been loyal to the company for more than six decades, and worked multiple shifts during the height of the crisis, putting their own health on the line. I’m strongly urging Mondelez’s leadership to reconsider, to keep these jobs here in North Jersey, and to help make sure these workers can continue providing for their families.”

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Rodrigo Torrejon may be reached at rtorrejon@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @rodrigotorrejon.

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