State - INACTIVE

ConAgra sells facility in Modesto

A company based in Singapore is buying a south Modesto plant that produces dehydrated and frozen vegetables.

The new owner, Olam International Ltd., plans to retain the employees at this and five other plants it is buying from ConAgra Foods Inc. for $250 million.

The 62-year-old plant on East Whitmore Avenue employs about 300 people at peak production, Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Economic Development & Workforce Alliance, said Friday. He did not know the year-round number.

The plant manager referred inquiries to a spokesman at ConAgra headquarters in Omaha, Neb., who did not return a message.

In 2000, the last time the plant changed hands, it employed about 300 people year-round and about 300 more at the peak, according to Bee archives.

The six plants have operated as part of Gilroy Foods & Flavors, a subsidiary of ConAgra. They supply ingredients to other food processors, including garlic, onions and peppers.

"This company in Singapore is a pretty solid company," Bassitt said, "and I think the attraction is that the (Modesto) plant already has a global clientele."

ConAgra also owns an Oakdale tomato cannery, formerly Hunt-Wesson. It is not affected by the sale, which is expected to close in 30 to 60 days.

"This announcement is part of ConAgra Foods' ongoing strategy of divesting non-core operations to continuously improve our focus," said Gary Rodkin, chief executive officer, in a news release.

The purchase includes facilities in Modesto, Gilroy, Hanford and King City, as well as Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon.

Olam operates in 64 countries, supplying cocoa, coffee, cashews, sesame, rice, cotton, wood and other products. It already produces tomatoes, onions and cotton in the Central Valley.

The purchase "will substantially build on our existing grower franchise in California as well as deepen our strong customer base in the U.S. and globally," said John Gibbons, president of Olam Americas, in a news release.

The Modesto plant was built in 1948 by California Vegetable Concentrates. It was acquired in 1960 by General Foods, a predecessor to Kraft General Foods. Kraft sold the plant in 1993 to Basic Vegetable Products, which sold it to ConAgra in 2000.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at 578-2385 or jholland@modbee.com.

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