Bloomington will become home to an international candy maker’s first chocolate manufacturing center in the United States.
Ferrero North America has announced plans to build a $75 million expansion at its existing plant on Beich Road.
The company said the new 70,000-square foot facility will employ about 50 workers. Construction is set to begin next spring and take about two years to complete.
The company’s chocolate is currently made in Europe.
Ferrero North America President Paul Chibe said the company produces cocoa powder and cocoa butter, two key ingredients in chocolate, at its Canadian facility near Toronto. It will be be delivered to Bloomington for the production of chocolate through a process called conching.
"It's not that far of a truck ride or train ride to get from there to our Bloomington facility," Chibe said.
Ferrero will take advantage of tax incentives through a local enterprise zone that Bloomington, Normal, McLean County, Gibson City and Ford County approved earlier this year. An expansion of the enterprise zone allows Ferrero to receive several incentives, including a sales tax break on building materials.
Chibe said the incentives were key to the deal.
"Great economic incentives by the state of Illinois, a great community in Bloomington, great site and work force with the Bloomington team that works there, it made it very attractive to make this investment in Bloomington," Chibe said.
Patrick Hoban, president of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said Ferrero also was exploring whether to expand instead at its facilities in Canada or Mexico.
“We met with them multiple times along with the City of Bloomington to find out what it would take to land this project in Bloomington and the enterprise zone was what it took,” Hoban said.
Hoban added the pandemic may have delayed the expansion as Ferrero ensured the project was still viable during an economic downturn.
“In the beginning, everyone has a plan and they know where they are going and then everyone has to pump the brakes until they can retool their models,” Hoban said. “Actually, I believe similar to some of our craft beer, the sales are actually up as people are sitting as home.
“People are actually indulging in chocolate, so that’s a win for us.”
Chibe acknowledged the pandemic delayed the project, by creating travel and other logistical challenges, but also some uncertainty in the market. He said the company is encouraged by the news of a coronavirus vaccine coming in the next few months and he said sales have endured the economic challenges.
"Our (products) have served as a good point of relief for people," he said. "At least we are bringing some normalcy to everyday life."
Ferrero makes dozens of chocolate and candy brands, including Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, Nutella and Fannie May candies. Ferrero is the third largest confectionary company in the United States.
The Bloomington plant currently employs more than 300 workers. It was built in the 1960s by the Beich candy company, whose origins in Bloomington date back to the 1890s.
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