70 jobs lost as Merced County nut-processing plant scales back

GUSTINE -- A nut-processing plant will close its packaging operation, leaving about 70 people without jobs.

John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc. has decided to move the processing and packaging of nuts to its facility in Elgin, Ill. Employees, all full-time and nonseasonal, were told of the cutback last week.

"It was a business decision to improve efficiency," company human resources vice president Tom Fordonski said Monday.

The other tasks of the Gustine plant, walnut shelling and almond butter production, will remain. The facility, at Cottonwood Road, still employs more than 150 workers.

The cutbacks mean that there will be even more Merced County residents competing for any open jobs. The unemployment rate, as of August, is 11 percent, only ranking below Yuba and Imperial Counties. The state average is at 7.6 percent

Locally, more than 12,000 people are unemployed in the work force of 108,700.

John B. Sanfilippo, which sells nuts under the Fisher brand, will keep the packaging equipment in Gustine in case there's an uptick in business and it decides to reopen that part of the plant.

The employees will receive 60 days of pay and benefits while they hunt for a new job. The company contacted the Merced County Department of Workforce Investment to help former employees.

John B. Sanfilippo bought the Gustine plant in 1993 from Crane Walnut and expanded it. The company, with operations Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, has 1,400 employees.

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or