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    Blommer Chocolate to close Chicago factory

    Blommer Chocolate Co. will close its factory in the heart of Chicago at the end of May due to increasing costs of running the aging facility at 600 W. Kinzie St., the company announced on Friday.

    It will cut 250 jobs, according to a spokesperson.

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

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

    Some employees will move to other roles within the company, others to competing confectioneries who have agreed to take them on.

    “They’ve been working very hard to keep this plant operational for many years. They know the struggles that it’s taken to run something of this vintage,” Robert Karr, senior vice president of Blommer, said. “They’ve taken the news as we have — very hard — in the sense that we’ve all been so committed. And while we don’t want this day to come, it’s a sad day, but it’s also a part of the future.”

    The factory known for wafting mouth-watering chocolate aromas across downtown Chicago opened in 1939 when the company was founded. The site is also the original manufacturing plant.

    Karr said while the loss of the chocolate smell will leave a void downtown, the company is looking forward to the future.

    “This is where our headquarters is located so we’re not leaving Chicago,” he said. “We have people when we walk around the neighborhood from all over the world wondering where the chocolate is and we’re all going to miss it. It’s a big part of Chicago.”

    ‘Missed for sure’

    Blommer’s corporate headquarters and lab will remain at the Merchandise Mart. The company said its new research and development center will open at the Mart in fall 2024 and will focus on processing and ingredient research, “concept tasting” and more.

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

    Fulton River District residents were shocked at hearing about the closing. Many said the smells from the neighboring factory were a part of their daily routines.

    “I guess it’s not going to smell as good around here anymore, unfortunately,” Tom Favero, 26, said. “It’ll be missed for sure.”

    Christy Kelly, 36, and Matt Kelly, 38, got used to smelling chocolate and can’t imagine it being gone.

    “We call it ‘the terrible factory smell’ ironically because we love it,” Matt Kelly. “We sit on the balcony of our place in the summer and when the wind carries the smell over it’s like the best place on earth.”

    “It’s such a bummer,” Christy Kelly said. “We’ll have to melt our own chocolate on our stove now.”

    Karr, of Blommer, said the factory produced over 200 million pounds of chocolate a year. It officially ceased production Friday, and the equipment will be moved to other facilities.

    Overall, according to the company, Blommer employs about 900 people and is the largest cocoa processor and ingredient chocolate supplier in North America.

    Candymaking history

    Henry Blommer Sr. and his brothers Al and Bernard founded Bloomer in 1939. Their grandfather, Conrad Blommer, a Milwaukee confectioner, opened Blommer Ice Cream, which became Wisconsin Creameries, according to Blommer’s website.

    In 2018, Japanese company Fuji Oil Holdings Inc. announced it would purchase Blommer for about $750 million. Then in 2020, the chocolate maker shuttered its store inside the factory to allow expansion of the 270,000-square-foot facility.

    The company has faced its share of setbacks in Chicago. In 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited Blommer for alleged clean air violations after a citizen complained about odor and emissions. An EPA inspector observed dust from Blommer’s grinders “that exceeded limits” for the amount of light obscured by emissions. And the facility has survived a number of fires, most recently in 2020.

    But its financial hurdles appeared to have drawn concern from Fuji Oil in January, when it cut its fiscal year net profit forecast, citing high costs at Blommer, according to MarketWatch.

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

    The shuttering of Blommer’s factory closes another chapter in Chicago’s candymaking history, dating from the late 1800s. Tootsie Rolls, Brach’s, Frango, Wrigley Gum, Fannie May, and Mars Candy all have roots in the city. Fannie May’s first store was in the Loop and Frango mints were produced at Marshall Field’s department store on State Street for 70 years.



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