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Updated: Jennie-O Turkey Store's Benson Avenue plant in Willmar to close, employees will transition to Willmar Avenue location

The Jennie-O Turkey Store plant on Benson Avenue Southwest is set to close this spring, a decision made by Hormel Foods, which owns Jennie-O. No layoffs are planned as workers will transition over to the Willmar Avenue location.

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The Jennie-O Turkey Store Benson Avenue plant, located just west of downtown Willmar, is being closed by parent company Hormel Foods. The closure should be completed by spring 2022 and employees currently working in the plant will be transferred over to the larger facility on Willmar Avenue, near the Willmar Industrial Park. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Editor's Note: This story has been updated.

WILLMAR — The Jennie-O Turkey Store plant located on Benson Avenue just west of downtown Willmar will be closing in the first half of fiscal year 2022, according to a news release from Hormel Foods , which owns Jennie-O.

The news comes as Hormel reports double-digit sales growth in every segment of the business in the fourth quarter.

The release said that team members at the plant on Benson Avenue will transition to the Willmar Avenue plant, which is both newer and larger than the Benson Avenue location. Production that is currently done at the Benson Avenue plant will be consolidated into multiple Jennie-O plants.

The Benson Avenue plant was built in the 1940s and purchased by Earl B. Olson, the founder of Jennie-O Foods, in 1949. It was Olson's first turkey processing plant, and the business was originally called Farmer's Produce Company, according to the company's website .

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In 1953, Olson renamed the brand of turkeys processed at the plant to Jennie-O, after his daughter Jennifer. The plant was also converted to a USDA-inspected turkey plant. The company name was changed to Jennie-O Foods Inc. in 1971. The company was purchased by Hormel Foods Corporation in 1986.

The Benson Avenue plant underwent a remodel in 1992 and a new packaging area was added, according to Hormel's media department. The Willmar Avenue plant and the company's corporate offices were constructed in 1973, the website said.

The company didn't become Jennie-O Turkey Store until 2001, when Hormel purchased The Turkey Store Company, which was originally founded by Wallace Jerome in 1941. The company was based in Barron, Wisconsin. Hormel then merged Jennie-O Foods and the Turkey Store Company into Jennie-O Turkey Store.

All together, Jennie-O has 12 lay farms, three hatcheries, more than 100 commercial growing farms, eight feed mills and seven processing plants, the website said. The other processing plants are located in Faribault, Melrose, Montevideo and Pelican Rapids in Minnesota and one in Barron, Wisconsin.

The news release also said that Jennie-O Turkey Store's business functions will continue to be more broadly integrated into the Hormel Foods organization.

"Turkey and the Jennie-O brand play an important role in our diversification and growth strategy," said Jim Snee, Hormel chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer, in the release. "To further enhance the growth and profitability for this business, we are embarking on a series of actions to create more efficient, innovating and demand-oriented turkey portfolio."

Net sales for Jennie-O products were up 23% in the fourth quarter over the fourth quarter 2020 and volume increased by 1%. The release said the continued recovery in food service, the strong demand for Jennie-O retail items and higher prices offset the negative impact from whole bird shipments earlier in the year. Higher feed costs and freight expenses had a negative impact on segment profit, which decreased 7%.

Overall, Hormel saw record net sales of $3.5 billion in the fourth quarter, up 43% from the same time last year. For the entire fiscal year 2021, Hormel had record net sales of $11.4 billion, a 19% increase over 2020.

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"We delivered record sales and earnings this quarter with growth from every segment and channel," Snee said. "I'm extremely proud of how the entire team overcame numerous challenges to post these extraordinary results."

The news of the plant's closure spread through Willmar Thursday morning. Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission Executive Director Aaron Backman said thankfully no employees will be laid off.

"The good news is that anyone working in that smaller facility, west of the downtown, will be transferred over," Backman said.

While the plant is currently set up for turkey processing, Backman believes there is opportunity there to bring a new business to Willmar, if and when the plant goes up for sale.

"There are some other food processing or other businesses that might be able to utilize that facility," Backman said. "We are cautiously optimistic, that is our motto, that we will be able to repurpose that."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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