If you're a vegetable processing company, "growth" better be your favorite word.
It's a word tossed around dozens of times today during an open house for local officials and regional media at Bonduelle's facility in Bergen.
The family-run, France-based firm purchased the plant, along with plants in Oakfield and Brockport, from Allen Foods in March 2012.
It was a strategic purchase. Bonduelle, which specializes in packaging frozen vegetables under the labels of retailers, sees the United States as a place to grow and the Northeast as suitable target market.
Company executives made four trips to Allen's facilities and decided the plants were under-utilized but were in great locations with great employees, said Daniel Viefaure, CEO of Bonduelle Americas.
"When we visited the plants, what we saw were people eager for improvement," Viefaure said. "They were working under a company that was not as eager for growth as we were and the employees realized that. When they saw we were visiting, they were really interested and I got the feeling that they were the right people to do what we really wanted to do."
To date, Bonduelle has invested for $5.5 million in the four former Allen plants (there's also one in Wisconsin), including $3.5 million in the Bergen facility.
Bonduelle was so eager to grow in its first year that it applied for -- but didn't use because the timing wasn't right -- a $250,000 state grant through the Genesee County Economic Development Center.
While Allen was reportedly losing money on the facilities it sold to Bonduelle, Viefaure said his company was profitable its first year of operations.
The company plans to continue growing its WNY operations and Vielfaure said Bonduelle will likely seek out future assistance from GCEDC to assist with that growth.
Steve Hyde, CEO of GCEDC, said Bonduelle is a great success story for Genesee County, helping to shore up the vegetable end of the county's food processing industry.
“This is a game changer,” Hyde said. “The companies that owned this plant previously were really allowing it to decline and they weren’t investing and they weren’t growing, and now what you see is a 180 (degree change).”
The move into WNY by Bonduelle has certainly had a big impact on its employees in Bergen and Oakfield, who were on the cusp of unemployment under Allen. Bonduelle made a point of retaining the 69 year-around employees at the two plants.
The facilities also employ 188 seasonal workers.
Currently, the Bergen facility processes 107 million pounds of corn, carrots, beans and peas, said James Newcomb, facilities manager for Bonduelle.
Newcomb has 42 years experience working for the companies that roll up into the history of the Bonduelle plants.
On one of the tours today, Newcomb repeatedly emphasized the great care for quality Bonduelle has instilled in the plants, making equipment upgrades, improving training and ensuring only the best produce is purchased from family farms within 75 miles of the plants.
"Our customers were asking for more product, but we didn't have the capacity," Viefaure said. "Our customers are very happy to buy more product from us. They are experiencing growth and they needed more vegetables."
Among Bonduelle's clients is Wegmans, which Viefaure said is a great customer for Bonduelle because of Wegmans insistence on quality vegetables for its brand-name frozen foods.
"Wegmans is a state-of-the-art company," Viefaure said.
While Viefaure did not discuss today the specific expansion plans for his company, he did make clear the company is looking to grow its market share in the Northeast and that will mean expansion in Bergen and Oakfield.
James Newcomb demonstrating how corn kernals are stripped from the cob.
A worker sorting through kernals of cut corn, picking out imperfections. Newcomb said this was his first job in the industry and said it's one of the hardest jobs in the plant.