Candy maker Ferrero USA says the free COVID-19 testing site it set up outside its Bloomington plant is an effort to be proactive in its efforts to help the community contain the coronavirus.
“It was just to encourage the people to be more active in the fight (against) COVID,” said Ferrero's Senior Vice President of North American operations, Pasquale Giorgio.
Ferrero announced Monday the company has set up a mobile COVID testing clinic outside its plant at 2501 Beich Road in southwest Bloomington. Hours are from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, and from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is paying for the tests.
Mayor Tari Renner hopes Ferrero’s move to bring COVID testing on-site will spur more companies to do the same.
“Highlighting this will really get the creative thought processes of all of our business flowing and figuring out ways that we can do this in other parts of the community because testing has got to be a critical portion of whatever we (do) as we are aggressively combatting COVID,” Renner said.
Ferrero is one of the largest confectionary companies in the United States. It makes dozens of chocolate and candy brands, including Butterfinger, Baby Ruth and Nutella.
Giorgio said the plant has had three coronavirus cases, which he said were related to holiday travel.
He said Ferrero has managed the pandemic “relatively well,” noting the plant has staggered employee shifts, changed the production layout, added screens to shield workers, required masks and restricted travel.
“Initially of course everyone was concerned, but then we saw that the people realized that the measures were very good. People say, 'I feel safer here than I feel than home.' That’s a good statement.”
Ferrero has about 350 employees at the Bloomington facility, including about 290 hourly workers involved in production. That makes it one of McLean County’s largest manufacturers.
Giorgio said while the pandemic has slowed the company's Bloomington plant expansion, some renovations already have started. The company has said previously it plans to hire up to 50 workers as part of a projected $70 million expansion.
He said now he’s not sure how many new positions will be added in Bloomington, but Ferrero plans to complete the expansion over the next two years.
“Our plan of course is based on the market, but yes the idea is to increase the number of employees. The number is very difficult to say now, especially now,” Giorgio said.
More people have turned to comfort foods during the pandemic, but Giorgio said Ferrero hasn’t seen a large boost in candy sales, perhaps because the economic toll the pandemic has caused.
“I cannot say that it’s booming, but fortunately it’s not collapsing,” Giorgio replied. “So far there is viability, it’s more unpredictable than the past.”
Ferrero bought the Bloomington plant from Nestle USA in 2018.
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