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December 8, 2019
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Dole Berry Co. to close doors

WATSONVILLE — Dole Berry Co. at 480 West Beach St. is closing its operations in Watsonville, the company confirmed Wednesday.

Dole Food Company spokesperson William Goldfield wrote in an email that the closure came after a “strategic review of the company’s current production levels and forecast projection.”

Calls to the Watsonville location were not returned as of press time.

“Reducing our workforce of dedicated employees and closing facilities are among the most difficult decisions we make, but in light of increasing production costs, for example, these actions are necessary for the future of our business and will position Dole to better serve our customers with the highest quality berries that they have come to expect from Dole,” Goldfield said. 

According to a document obtained by this newspaper, just over 400 positions – including 268 pickers – will be eliminated.

An employee who answered the phone on Wednesday said that the closure will occur on Oct. 28.

It is unclear what will happen to the company’s land and buildings in Watsonville. Goldfield did not respond to a request for that information.

Watsonville is not the only place where Dole appears to be in financial distress. According to the Los Angeles Times, the company confirmed on Aug. 30 that it is closing its corporate headquarters in Westlake Village, which is located just west of Los Angeles.

In addition, the company recently closed a large berry cooling facility in Oxnard.

Dole Berry Company produces several varieties of berries. The company also grows in Ventura County, Santa Maria, Oceanside and Salinas.

In addition to Watsonville, Dole has operations in Irvine, Santa Maria and Salinas.

Despite its place as the largest fresh vegetable and fruit company in the world, it is nearly $1.3 billion in debt, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The company reported revenue of approximately $4.51 billion for the 2016 fiscal year, and a net loss of $23 million, according to the SEC.

The company released its first Initial Public Offering in April, and is likely getting rid of underperforming assets to sweeten the pot for potential investors, according to its April 24 SEC filing.

In the filing, Dole said that it has “strategically divested, and continue to divest, non-core assets, such as idle land in Hawaii and our Swedish fresh fruit procurement and distribution operation, to right-size our operations and eliminate assets not essential to our business.”

As of March 25, Dole Food Co. owned and operated approximately 124,000 acres of farms and other land holdings around the world. That included about 14,800 acres of land that was for sale in Hawaii, the company said in its filing.

It is also unknown whether the company will continue to grow berries in Watsonville, said Watsonville Assistant City Manager Matt Huffaker.

He added that the space could attract a new tenant quickly.

“Watsonville is currently experiencing a record low vacancy for its industrial and warehouse space,” Huffaker said. “We would anticipate that that location and facility would be in high demand.”

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