Orville Redenbacher exits Ohio

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The second of two Ohio popcorn processing facilities, each of which made Orville Redenbacher brand microwave popcorn, will be shuttered by ConAgra Foods by June.

SALEM, Ohio — For the past two years, Geauga County farmer Kevin O’Reilly has turned an often overlooked crop into a healthy profit center. That is about to change.

“It’s unfortunate, because it was good for us,” O’Reilly said of his two seasons growing popcorn under contract with ConAgra Foods. “It was something that was a little different and we always look for those kind of opportunities.”

After more than 20 years in Ohio, ConAgra Foods will move the second of its two popcorn manufacturing facilities out of the state by June.

“We have multiple plants with similar capabilities,” said Monique Farmer, a spokesperson for the Omaha, Nebraska-based company. “This transition will allow the company to operate more efficiently and effectively.”

ConAgra’s Marion, Ohio, plant closed in October 2014. Its Morral, Ohio, facility is set to close in June.

Who gets hit

According to the latest statistics from the Popcorn Board, the industry’s national commodity checkoff program, 18,484 acres of popcorn were planted in Ohio in 2013. The state is ranked third in the nation in popcorn production behind Nebraska and Indiana.

Popcorn manufacturing has been part of Marion, Ohio, history since the 1940s, when the Wyandot Popcorn company moved its operations to the city.

Over the next decade, Wyandot became largest exporter of popcorn in the world, leading to the creation of the Wyandot Popcorn Museum and the creation of the Marion Popcorn Festival in 1981.

ConAgra took over the Wyandot’s raw popcorn processing operation in 1989 and the facility was leased and renovated in 1992, Farmer said.

ConAgra’s facility in the nearby Marion County village of Morral opened in 1991.

Both plants made Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn.

Farmer said a total of 160 production workers at the two plants are being impacted by the closures, but she declined to say how many contracts the company has with Ohio growers, or how many acres of production would be affected by the move.

Refocusing efforts

O’Reilly, owner of Little Ireland Farms in Geauga County, said popcorn can bring a higher profit margin than bulk commodities such as field corn. In the wake of the ConAgra decision, he will be planting food-grade soybeans this year on the 100 acres he had devoted to popcorn.

Most of Ohio popcorn growers are located in the western half of the state, O’Reilly said, adding that smaller, regional popcorn companies could ensure the crop will not entirely disappear from the landscape.

But for an operation such as his, popcorn simply became too cost prohibitive without the ConAgra contract.

“But we would certainly try it again, given the right opportunity,” O’Reilly said.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I am sorry to hear about another b business leaving Ohio… I love Orville Redenbacher popcorn and was proud to have our Ohio farms and plant in our state.

    I don’t understand why when wee write producing so well that they would close and leave. I found felt that their microwave popcorn had greatly improved in size, taste and variety in the last 20 years that I had switched from other popcorn brands.

    Perhaps, less money spent on expensive T.V.adds would help keep the focus on the manufacturing and distribution of product and increase loyalty to their workers. They are the blood o of the company and without them, your business will eventually fail. I am sure they would rather take a pay cut than lose their jobs…was it even an option?

    We need our state government to help keep manufacturing in Ohio. So this will not happen or else the state that was once known as the best state to work and live in will be no longer and become more of a ghost town state instead.

    We need businesses to stay in Ohio to stop the current situation of so many already leaving the state of Ohio. We are bleeding, people!

    Let’s rally together and stop the insanity!

  2. I am sorry to hear about another business leaving Ohio… I love Orville Redenbacher popcorn and was proud to have their business harvesting from Ohio farms and having a manufacturing plant in our state.

    I don’t understand why when we were producing so well that they would close and leave. I felt that their microwave popcorn had greatly improved in size, taste and variety in the last 20 years that I had switched from other popcorn brands.

    Perhaps, less money spent on expensive T.V.adds would help keep the focus on the manufacturing and distribution of product and increase loyalty to their workers. They are the blood of the company and without them, your business will eventually fail. I am sure they would rather take a pay cut than lose their jobs…was it even an option?

    We need our state government to help keep manufacturing in Ohio. So this will not happen or else the state that was once known as the best state to work and live in will be no longer and become more of a ghost town state instead.

    We need businesses to stay in Ohio to stop the current situation of so many already leaving the state of Ohio. We are bleeding, people!

    Let’s rally together and stop the insanity!

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