Conagra plans to shutter offices at 1600 Pearl Street in Boulder by Dec. 31, 2019. Christopher Wood/BizWest.

Conagra to close Boulder office, terminate 100 jobs

BOULDER — Conagra Brands Inc. will permanently close the Boulder office of Pinnacle Foods Inc., parent company to Boulder Brands, and let go of 100 workers. Conagra is also doing away with the Boulder Brands name, and its products will be available under the Conagra Brands umbrella.

The company filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice with the Colorado Department of Labor on Feb. 5, declaring that it was closing the facility at 1600 Pearl St. “as a result of an evaluation of its business needs in conjunction with the post-acquisition integration of Pinnacle Foods Inc.”

The closure is permanent and will affect all employees. The office is expected to close on Dec. 31. Layoffs will begin on May 24 and continue through March 20, 2020. Any employee whose last day is after Dec. 31, 2019, will work remotely.

Certain affected employees are being offered ongoing employment, including at other Conagra office facilities. Affected employees are not represented by a union, and no employees at the Boulder office have bumping rights.

“In October, Conagra Brands acquired Pinnacle Foods, and as a part of that transaction, committed to undergoing a thorough evaluation process of the Boulder Brands business,” Michael Cummins, a spokesperson for Conagra told BizWest in an emailed statement. “Conagra recently completed a data-based analysis based on capabilities and determined it was best to integrate and build the Boulder-based brands into Conagra the way of innovation, development, brand building and business process.”

Cummins added that the decision was made to consolidate locations.

“This requires everyone being in the same location so teams can work fast and efficiently, share ideas for innovation in real-time and build our brands with each other,” he said. “As a result, the Boulder office location will close by the end of 2019, though many employees will be offered jobs in other Conagra locations.”

In June 2018, Conagra announced its plans to acquire Pinnacle Foods for $10.9 billion. Pinnacle is the parent company of Boulder Brands, known for making products such as Udi’s, Glutino and Earth Balance. Boulder Brands was acquired by Pinnacle in 2016.

However, Cummins said that Conagra is doing away with the Boulder Brands umbrella name. Its products will be available in the marketplace, produced by Conagra.

As to the 100 affected employees, Cummins said Conagra is meeting with each individual to discuss what the decision means to them and their opportunities at other locations.

“Many employees will have an opportunity to remain with Conagra and relocate to work out of one of its other office locations,” he said. “But it is too early to provide more details.  Employees not continuing with Conagra will receive severance pay and outplacement support.”

Boulder Brands is not the only Boulder Conagra company that was subjected to this decision. Thanasi Foods, which was purchased by Conagra in 2017, is closing as of March 1, 2019. Thanasi brands — Duke’s and Bigs — are being integrated into Conagra’s operations in Chicago and Omaha, Neb.

 

Clif Harald, executive director for the Boulder Economic Council, said that it’s not uncommon when a multinational company, such as Conagra, purchases another multinational company, such as Pinnacle, for a business unit like Boulder Brands to get swept up in the activity.

“My sense is that the Conagra acquisition was less driven by the Boulder Brands business unit than the entire brand portfolio of Pinnacle Foods,” Harald told BizWest. “I’m not sure how big a factor Boulder Brands or even Boulder’s natural products hub was in their decision-making. These decisions are made at a pretty high level.”

Harald added that because of that, he doesn’t see this as a referendum on Boulder Brands or on Boulder’s status as a natural-foods center.

“It’s as diverse and well-established as it’s ever been,” he said.

That being said, Harald noted that it is sad that Boulder Brands will no longer be in Boulder.

“I was looking back at the very first communications I was having with Boulder Brands, back when they were Smart Balance and not even branded as Boulder Brands yet,” he said. “It was very exciting, even inspiring as they were making their plans to rebrand to Boulder Brands and move their headquarters downtown. It was all very inspiring.”

Harald said his focus is now on helping to support the 100 employees who have lost their jobs due to the decision to close the office. He said he’s already been in touch with Workforce Boulder County and the city of Boulder to find ways to support the employees and make their transition smooth. He added that, given Boulder’s robust natural-foods scene, he’s optimistic that many of them will be able to find work soon.

“First and foremost, I think we need to be as supportive as we can possibly be of the impacted employees,” Harald said. “And while there will be an impact on the Boulder Brands business unit, I don’t see this having a lasting impact on Boulder natural products. This is business.”

Conagra said in its quarterly earnings report, dated Nov. 25, 2018, that it expects to make cost synergies in excess of $215 million per year when its integration of Pinnacle is concluded. Conagra went on to add that in Dec. 2018, its board of directors approved a restructuring and integration plan related to its acquisition of Pinnacle. Conagra said it expects to incur up to $290 million in charges related to the integration. That figure includes a possible $205 million in severance and related costs.

Boulder Brands was founded as Boulder Specialty Brands Inc. in 2005. In 2007, it changed its name to Smart Balance Inc. when it acquired GFA Brands Inc., parent company to the Smart Balance and Earth Balance brands. In 2013, the company rebranded again to Boulder Brands and moved to its downtown headquarters on Pearl Street.

The layoffs are the second blow to the Boulder Valley economy in a month. In January, AstraZeneca PLC announced that it would close its plants in Boulder and Longmont, eliminating 210 jobs.

 

This story has been updated.

BOULDER — Conagra Brands Inc. will permanently close the Boulder office of Pinnacle Foods Inc., parent company to Boulder Brands, and let go of 100 workers. Conagra is also doing away with the Boulder Brands name, and its products will be available under the Conagra Brands umbrella.

The company filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice with the Colorado Department of Labor on Feb. 5, declaring that it was closing the facility at 1600 Pearl St. “as a result of an evaluation of its business needs in conjunction with the post-acquisition integration of Pinnacle Foods Inc.”

The closure is permanent and will affect all employees. The office is expected to close on Dec. 31. Layoffs will begin on May 24 and continue through March 20, 2020. Any employee whose last day is after Dec. 31, 2019, will work remotely.

Certain affected employees are being offered ongoing employment, including at other Conagra office facilities. Affected employees are not represented by a union, and no employees at the Boulder office have bumping rights.

“In October, Conagra Brands acquired Pinnacle Foods, and as a part of that transaction, committed to undergoing a thorough evaluation process of the Boulder Brands business,” Michael Cummins, a spokesperson for Conagra told BizWest in an emailed statement. “Conagra recently completed a data-based analysis based on capabilities and determined it was best to integrate and build the Boulder-based brands into Conagra the way of innovation, development, brand building and business…