Bradenton-based Tropicana Products Inc. is closing its Fort Pierce plant and laying off workers because of shortage of oranges.
In a letter to the state of Florida announcing it was cutting 27 jobs, the orange juice giant blamed “unforeseen business circumstances” for the closure, which in all likelihood will be permanent.
The letter was sent to meet federally mandated Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act requirements.
The 27 affected employees were let go July 15, and the plant is scheduled to close on or about Sept. 13.
A Tropicana spokeswoman, however, contradicted the letter sent to the state in an email to the Business Observer.
In the email, spokeswoman Hannah Donohue says the facility will remain open “and part of our manufacturing footprint.”
“We will not be processing fruit there for the 2023 season and are consolidating that work to our Bradenton plant. Unfortunately, there is a small portion of our full time team who will be impacted by this change and we are committed to offering them support in finding other work, whether within our existing operations or elsewhere.”
The Observer provided Donohue a copy of the letter which is posted on the state’s WARN website.
Donohue, in a follow up conversation, says the letter to the state will be updated in the next couple of days but was unable to immediately provide details of what would be changed.
According to the letter, because of a “decline in the number of boxes of oranges available across Florida given the upcoming crop, as well as future crop projections” the plant, at 6500 Glades Cut Off Road, will close. That means, the company writes, all fruit processing, citrus operations, feed mill and fruit of maintenance operations will be affected.
“Given these unfortunate and unforeseen business circumstances, the future of the fruit processing operations at the Fort Pierce plant is highly uncertain, and this closure is expected to be permanent.”
One matter left unanswered July 19 is what will happen to the remaining employees. According to the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County, Tropicana Products has 258 employees at the plant. The WARN notice, however, only shows 27 employees have lost their jobs.
Jennifer Kane, the human resource officer who signed the letter announcing the job cuts and closure, did not respond to an after-hours voicemail for comment July 19.
Beverage giant PepsiCo, Inc., which had owned Tropicana for years, entered into an into an agreement last August with private equity firm PAI Partners to sell Tropicana and other juice brands across North America in a $3.3 billion deal.
(This story has been updated to include a statement from a Tropicana spokesperson on the facility's future)