While at breakfast last week when covering the 46th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off, I shared a table with two of the 100 contestants, both from the East Coast.
Our table talk quickly turned to the news of the day, in both of their hometowns, neither with happy recent industry reports.
Lynn Connors, who hails from Thorton, Pa., and was competing with her recipe for Whole Wheat Quinoa Pancakes, lives just outside of Philadelphia. She grew-up with the wonderful aroma of the baking scent from the community's landmark business Nabisco, which originated as National Biscuit Company headquartered in New Jersey.
Today, Nabisco is a subsidiary of Illinois-based Mondelēz International. Locally, Nabisco's plant on Chicago's southwest side, a 1,800,000-square-foot production facility at 7300 S. Kedzie Avenue, is billed as ranking as the largest bakery in the world, employing more than 1,500 workers and turning out some 320 million pounds of snack foods annually. Nabisco opened corporate offices in what was also hailed as "the world's first skyscraper," the Home Insurance Building in the Chicago Loop, in 1898.
Unfortunately, earlier this month, this Nabisco plant, which most recently also shared the Kraft Foods Company name for production, announced plans to close the already diminished operations. The shut-down is a result of plans to move all of the production to Mexico and elimination of more than 300 U.S. jobs. One union worker, who has worked at the operation for more than 30 years, told a newscaster at the CBS TV affiliate in Philadelphia: "There's not a Fig Newton made in the U.S. today. They're all made in Mexico." He said in recent years, only four of the eight large ovens have been fired up for factory baking.
Across this same breakfast table, Bake-Off Finalist Victoria Potts, of Hershey, Pa., who competed with her Chorizo Party Appetizers, had much of the same to report about the iconic chocolate and candy production from Hershey's.
When I commented about the famed "Hershey's Chocolate Kiss-Shaped Street Lamps" lining the streets of Hershey, Pa., I was told that much of the main factory and plant operations have been closed or shuttered, with more and more of the candy making and jobs moving to Mexico. I was told one condition agreed upon by the community elected officials and company's business leaders is that the iconic original Hershey's plant on East Chocolate Avenue in the center of Hershey, which closed last year and sold for $50 million in favor of a new space, must keep the landmark smokestacks and even the Hershey Cocoa bushes planted out front. A new Hershey's production facility two miles away is capable of churning out 70 million Hershey's Kisses per day. In recent years, media reports reveal Hershey's shifted production to Mexico for global restructuring and the elimination about 1,500 jobs, including about 800 in Pennsylvania.
Founder Milton S. Hershey was well past age 40, and had already been experimenting for several years, before hitting upon his formula to manufacture milk-chocolate bars affordable for the masses.