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Heinz has prospective buyer for Leamington, Ont., plant

The Heinz factory in Leamington, Ont. Company officials announced the plant would be closing in 2014.

DAVE CHIDLEY/The Globe and Mail

A deal to keep the Heinz food-processing plant open in Leamington, Ont., could save a few hundred of the more than 700 positions slated to be cut.

On Tuesday, a source said an announcement to keep at least part of the Southwestern Ontario plant in operation producing tomato juice is expected on Thursday morning.

"Heinz has a prospective buyer for the plant," a source said.

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Leamington Mayor John Paterson said there have been discussions for months involving the H.J. Heinz Co., groups of investors and government. He said the talks recently were narrowed down to one group that he would not name. This group of investors, he said, told him to be in town on Wednesday.

He said it was not clear if ownership of the plant would stay with Heinz.

A spokesman for Heinz had no comment.

The town, known as the tomato capital of Canada, was rocked by the company's announcement in November that it would close the factory in mid-2014. The Pittsburgh-based company said it would move production of ketchup, baby food and sauces to other plants in the United States and Ontario.

Canadian law forbids the sale of tomato juice made from paste, which is how Heinz's U.S. plants make juice and ketchup. So if the company wants to retain its Canadian market share, it must make juice in Canada.

Retaining part of the plant's operations is welcome news for the growers who for generations have supplied Heinz with tomatoes. Heinz, which was acquired last year by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, had bought 40 per cent of Ontario's tomato crop through contracts with more than 40 growers in the area.

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