Did Mondelez send Chicago Oreo jobs to Mexico?

Snack maker in crosshairs of debate about future of U.S. jobs

The Illinois-based snack company that recently offered to buy The Hershey Co. has been making headlines after ending Oreo cookie production in its own backyard.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Mondelez International confirmed to the newspaper that the last Oreo line at its Chicago plant shut down on Friday.

That move, which began earlier this year, captured the ire of presidential contenders Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — and particularly Trump — when it emerged that Mondelez was expanding operations in Mexico.

Mondelez, born as a Kraft Foods spinoff in 2012, produces numerous big-name brands including Oreo Cookies, Ritz Crackers, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Trident Gum and the Cadbury family of chocolate products.

Compounding the Oreo controversy have been memes shared on Facebook and other social media — a potent but not always accurate means of political communication that has taken on particular vigor this election season.

Did Mondelez move Oreo production to Mexico, as some would have it?

Yes, but not completely.

Oreo cookies are manufactured in 18 countries, including the U.S., company spokeswoman Laurie M. Guzzinati said, adding that “we currently produce and will continue to make Oreo cookies at a number of our manufacturing sites here in the United States.”

The three U.S. bakeries that continue to make Oreos are in New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon, Guzzinati said, plants where the company has spent $170 million upgrading its manufacturing lines, according to a 2015 press release.

That same release heralded a $130 million investment in what Mondelez called “four state-of-the-art manufacturing lines – ‘Lines of the Future’ – at the company’s Americas production facility in Salinas, Mexico,” which opened in late 2014.

The new facility “will replace nine older, inefficient manufacturing lines at its Chicago biscuit plant,” Mondelez said.

The elimination of the Chicago lines also meant the end of about 600 jobs, which led to protests earlier this year.

Guzzinati told CPBJ that while Oreos are gone, the Chicago bakery remains open for the production of other Nabisco cookies and crackers. It still employs about 600 people, “which makes it one of our larger manufacturing sites supporting our business, and is a strategic site to us, given its Midwest U.S. location,” she added.

Hershey in Mexico

On June 30, Hershey’s board unanimously rejected a $23 billion purchase proposal from Mondelez, under which sources told national media outlets that Mondelez was willing to move its headquarters to Dauphin County and even retain the Hershey name.

Hershey, meanwhile, also operates international manufacturing sites, including one in Monterrey, Mexico.

When Hershey announced the U.S. launch of its “Kisses Deluxe” product last year, the company dubbed the hazelnut-filled confections “the largest innovation in 25 years from America’s most iconic chocolate brand.”

But that innovation is being produced in Mexico, not in Dauphin County, “due to specialized equipment needed to make this product,” according to a company statement.

“The equipment is different from our iconic ‘deposited’ Hershey’s Kisses which are made in our West Hershey plant,” an October email to the Central Penn Business Journal added.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com.

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