Ultra Foods to lay off 139 workers in Highland

The Ultra Foods in Gary closed. Nearly 140 workers will be laid off when the flagship Highland store is shuttered.

Nearly 140 workers at the Highland Ultra Foods will lose their jobs when the discount supermarket is closed in September after no one stepped forward to buy it out of bankruptcy.

Joliet-based Central Grocers is closing Ultra Foods stores in Highland and Kankakee, Illinois, two of the assets it has been trying to sell since December, after an attempt to auction them off in federal bankruptcy court failed. The company sent a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, notice to the state of Indiana saying it would lay off 139 workers at the discount grocery store at 8401 Indianapolis Blvd., which opened in 1981 as the flagship Ultra. 

Laid-off workers include 67 clerks, 21 utility clerks, 18 deli/seafood clerks, 10 bakery clerks, four meat wrappers and three salaried employees.

More than 2,000 workers have lost their jobs since the century-old Central Grocers went into bankruptcy in May after racking up more than $225 million in debt and failing to pay creditors like Mars, Coca-Cola and General Mills, who sued to push it into bankruptcy.

Central Grocers announced in April it would lay off 460 workers when it closed five stores, then announced another 752 layoffs after it closed its Ultra stores in Lansing, Chicago Heights, Crestwood, Calumet Park, Forest Park, Wheaton and Joliet. About 550 warehouse workers and truckers are losing their jobs at the main warehouse in Joliet, which the cooperative failed to sell.

In the bankruptcy filing, Central Grocers blamed its collapse on a number of factors, including increased competition, new online rivals like Blue Apron, severe price depreciation and an inability to procure enough of the organic food modern consumers want.

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.