NatureSweet has now laid off about 65 of 800 total employees at its Willcox facility, a figure that does not include the 400 inmates formerly used by EuroFresh.
CEO Bryant Ambelang explained last week that NatureSweet had not previously announced this reduction in force (RIF), as it did not take full possession of the former EuroFresh Farms until the middle of last month.
“We were ‘debtor in possession’. So we weren’t making any personnel decisions at that time,” Ambelang said.
“We wanted to have those conversations directly here first, and not have them read about it in the newspaper,” he said.
On March 28, Arizona’s United States Bankruptcy Court approved the sale of “substantially all of the assets” of EuroFresh to NatureSweet’s subsidiary, Zona Acquisition, LLC.
The auction followed NatureSweet’s late January 2013 announcement of its intent to acquire the assets when EuroFresh filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Addressing the RIF earlier this month, Ambelang said, “We laid off a significant number of employees, mostly in the management team and in the offices.”
“There is no great way to present that,” he added. “I like to handle it all at once. Then Monday, you wake up and it’s over.”
Asked how the tomato plants were going to be monitored, given the fact that managers were laid off, Ambelang replied that those that were eliminated duplicated existing NatureSweet positions.
Ambelang said that NatureSweet is looking at reducing the amount of inmate labor being used at the facility.
“We are having ongoing conversations with the prison. Is there a role for the prison going forward? That’s what we’re trying to determine,” he said.
Asked if the company had any plans to shut down some of the Willcox greenhouses, Ambelang replied, “There are six sites (greenhouses) – so you can rotate them.”