published Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Life Savers at 100: Wrigley cites Chattanooga plant during celebration

Wrigley and local government officials perform a ribbon-cutting at their Chattanooga plant Wednesday celebrating 100 years of Life Savers.
Wrigley and local government officials perform a ribbon-cutting at their Chattanooga plant Wednesday celebrating 100 years of Life Savers.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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Wrigley's Chattanooga plant has nearly doubled its output with the completion of a $23.1 million expansion, company officials said Wednesday as they marked the 100th year of the Life Savers brand.

Top executives of Chicago-based Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. said here that the popular candy and mint continues to show sales growth.

"We look forward to the next 100 years of Life Savers," said Martin Radvan, Wrigley's global president. "This is the start of what continues to be a successful journey."

Casey Keller, Wrigley's North American regional president, said the expansion added 120 jobs to the Jersey Pike plant, 1,500 square feet and another production line.

The plant has boosted production to include Life Savers sugar-mint flavors, including Pep-O-Mint, Wint-O-Green, Spear-O-Mint and Orange Mint.

"Some of the fastest growth in our history is happening on the business," Keller said. "Not only is this brand 100 years old, but it's still growing. If we keep growing, we'll have to build more facilities to expand Life Savers."

Bruce VerBurg, the plant's site director, said the factory now has 360 workers including seasonal employees. The plant also makes Altoids mints.

Radvan, who took the president's job in mid-2011, cited the performance of the local plant in the wake of the 16-month expansion.

"Performance -- it matters very much. It's spectacular at the moment. I know it has been a struggle to meet that volume," he said.

Radvan came from privately held confections giant Mars Inc. after its $23 billion purchase of Wrigley in 2008.

The 120 jobs were added in Chattanooga even as Wrigley cut about 100 slots, or about 10 percent, of its Chicago area workforce.

Bloomberg Business Week reported that Wrigley said it was restructuring its North American business to focus on increasing sales of its chewing-gum and confections products.

Tim Spires, the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association president, said the expansion shows the strength of the area's workforce.

"It doesn't surprise me the town was selected to do the project," he said.

Patsy Hazlewood, the state Department of Economic and Community Development's regional director, said the state helped provide training and other incentives for the expansion.

The company previously expanded when it brought Altoids production from Wales to Chattanooga.

With a 100-year-old business such as Life Savers, Wrigley is "the type of company and business you want," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said.

Wrigley bought the Chattanooga plant in 2005 as part of its $1.46 billion purchase of Kraft Foods' confectionery business. At that time, Wrigley officials said it had decided to make the facility a key part of its confectionery operations.

Wrigley has operations in more than 40 countries and produces such brands as Doublemint, Skittles, Freedent and Starburst.

McLean, Va.-based Mars has net annual sales of more than $30 billion. Its six business segments include Wrigley, pet care, chocolate, food and drinks. It has about 70,000 employees.

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about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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