April 13, 2024

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Bloomer's Chocolate Company closes Chicago factory

Bloomer's Chocolate Company closes Chicago factory

Blommer Chocolate Co. announced. It will close its factory in downtown Chicago at the end of May due to increased operating costs at its old facility at 600 W. Kinsey St., the company announced Friday.

It will eliminate 250 jobs, according to a spokesperson.

“The location and age of the Chicago facility coupled with increased repair and maintenance of the building and equipment has resulted in higher operating costs and created production reliability issues,” Bloomer said in a statement.

Employees learned of the closure Friday afternoon. Several people were seen exiting the factory carrying pieces of paper containing information about next steps.

Some employees will be transferred to other roles within the company and others will be transferred to competing confectionery companies that have agreed to take them on.

“They have worked hard to keep this plant running for many years. They know the hardships it takes to run something like this,” said Robert Carr, senior vice president at Bloomer. “They took the news as we did — with great difficulty — meaning we are all committed.” Extremely. While we don't want this day to come, it is a sad day, but it is also part of the future.

Known for its delicious chocolate scent, the factory opened in downtown Chicago in 1939 when the company was founded. The site is also the original manufacturing plant.

Although the smell of chocolate will leave a void downtown, the company is looking to the future, Carr said.

“This is where we're headquartered, so we're not leaving Chicago,” he said. “We have people when we walk through the neighborhood from all over asking where the chocolate is and we'll all miss it. It's a big part of Chicago.”

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Blommer's headquarters and laboratory will remain in the Merchandise Mart. The company said its new R&D center will open at Mart in the fall of 2024 and will focus on processing, ingredient research, “concept tasting” and more.

Over the next several years, Bloomer will invest $100 million in three remaining production facilities in East Greenville, Pennsylvania; Union City, California; Campbellford, Ontario, Canada.

Residents of the Fulton River area were shocked to hear the news of the closure. Many said the smells coming from the factory were part of their daily routine.

“I think it won't smell as good in here anymore, unfortunately,” Tom Favero, 26, said. “I've never had chocolate before, but it's really nice to smell it every day when I walk around here. We'll definitely miss it.”

Christy Kelly, 36, and Matt Kelly, 38, said they had grown accustomed to smelling chocolate and couldn't imagine it going away.

“We call it the 'terrible factory smell' ironically because we love it,” Matt Kelly said. “We sit on our balcony in the summer, and when the wind carries the smell, it feels like the best place on earth.”

“It's actually a feature of our neighborhood,” Christy Kelly said. “It's a big problem. We'll have to melt the chocolate ourselves on our stove now.”

The factory produces more than 200 million pounds of chocolate annually, Bloomer's Carr said.

The plant officially ceased production on Friday, and company officials will work with the maintenance and sanitation team to prepare equipment for transfer to other facilities.

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The company said it is the largest cocoa manufacturer and chocolate ingredient supplier in North America and employs about 900 people.

History of candy making

It was founded by Henry Blumer Sr. and his brothers Al and Bernard Blumer in 1939. Their grandfather, Conrad Blumer, was a confectioner in Milwaukee and opened Blumer's Ice Cream, which later became Wisconsin Creameries, according to Blumer's website.

In 2018, Fuji Oil Holdings Inc. announced Japan said it would buy Blommer for about $750 million. Then in 2020, the chocolatier closed its shop inside the factory to make room for expansion into the 270,000-square-foot facility.

The company faced its share of setbacks in Chicago. In 2005, the US Environmental Protection Agency charged Plumer with alleged clean air violations after a citizen complained about the odor and emissions. An EPA inspector noted dust emitted by Bloomer's mills “exceeded the limits” for the amount of light blocked by the emissions. The facility has survived a number of fires, most recently in 2020.

But its financial hurdles appeared to have worried Fuji Oil in January, when it cut its fiscal-year net profit forecast due to rising costs at Bloomer, according to MarketWatch.

In an investor presentation released on Friday, Fuji Oil said the chocolate maker's profitability “deteriorated significantly due to changes in the US labor market, a sharp rise in interest rates, and a sharp increase in manufacturing costs caused by a significant rise in cocoa prices.” It also noted “extraordinary losses” of more than $60 million for the third quarter of fiscal year 2023.

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The closing of the Bloomer plant closes another chapter in Chicago's candy-making history, which dates back to the late 1800s. Tootsie Rolls, Brush's, Frango's, Wrigley's Gum, Fannie Mae, and Mars Candy all have roots in the city, according to the Chicago Loop Alliance. The first Fannie Mae store was in the Loop and Frango mints were produced at Marshall Field's Department Store on State Street for 70 years.