Toowoomba's Weis factory.
Toowoomba's Weis factory. file

'It's devastating': Iconic brand to axe Toowoomba factory

UPDATE, 2.30PM: NEWS of the impending closure of the Weis factory in Toowoomba has come as a shock to Toowoomba Regional Council mayor Paul Antonio.

"That is devastating news," he said.

He said the rhetoric around Unilever's purchase of the brand in 2017 had led him to be "very confident that the Weis factory would continue (operating) well into the future".

"I just think that's so sad."

Cr Antonio said he was concerned for those who would lose their jobs as a result of the factory closing.

"The loss of 93 jobs in a place like Toowoomba is significant. Our thoughts are with those who've lost their jobs," he said.

"Given this is an iconic organisation that was really putting Toowoomba on the map, I'm a bit shocked by it."

EARLIER: UNILEVER has announced it will be closing its Toowoomba Weis manufacturing plant, with 93 jobs to go by the time the facility closes in December 2020.

The company said that following an extensive review of its Australia and New Zealand ice cream business, it had "made the difficult decision to transfer the manufacture of our Weis line of ice creams from Toowoomba in Queensland to our Minto site in New South Wales".

In a statement, Unilever said it believed the decision will ensure a long, sustainable future for the historic Weis brand, though "the decision will regrettably result in the closure of our Toowoomba manufacturing facility in December 2020 following a gradual transition".

Unilever Australia and New Zealand CEO Clive Stiff announced the news to staff in Toowoomba today.

"We did not anticipate this decision when we acquired Weis from the Weis family in 2017. It was our firm intention to keep manufacturing at Toowoomba, which is why we have made major investments in the site over the past two and a half years," he said. 

"We have also made significant investments in building the brand through marketing, research and development, and increased distribution in Australia and international markets. 

"However, the ice cream market - in terms of costs, competition and distribution channels - has changed very quickly and pressure on our business has significantly increased. 

"After an extensive review, it's become clear that consolidating our Australian ice cream manufacturing operations at Minto is necessary to achieve the benefits of scale and ensure continued strong on-shore manufacturing.

"This is not a decision we have taken lightly and we recognise that this announcement will affect everyone on site at Toowoomba as well as the local community. We have spoken to the Weis family and we appreciate their deep disappointment, and we understand this is not something they would have foreseen when they sold the business to Unilever."

The company's statement said all 93 full-time, part-time and casual roles at the Toowoomba site "will be impacted by this decision", "however opportunities will be available should employees wish to transfer to other parts of the Unilever business, including our operations in Minto and North Rocks".

Mr Stiff thanked staff today for their dedication, hard work, passion and ongoing commitment to the highest standards of quality.

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"We acknowledge the role the Weis factory has played in the Toowoomba community and are planning to set aside 25 per cent of the proceeds of the future sale of the site for the benefit of the community to ensure the contribution of the factory and its people is remembered and celebrated," Mr Stiff said. 

"All options for this are on the table and we will be consulting with our employees and local community leaders to ensure the funds are spent in a way that best serves the needs of Toowoomba. We are particularly interested in community or institutional groups that support longterm skills development and employment opportunities in the area.

"We want to thank our staff and everyone else who has contributed so much to Weis and its achievements over more than 52 years. Our focus is now on ensuring we fully support our people through a range of measures during this transition."

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