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Queensland reacts to Weis factory closure

THE Weis family launched a broadside against food giant Unilever for its ­decision to close the Toowoomba factory where the famous Weis ice-cream bars have been made for more than 60 years and relocate to NSW.

Unilever's decision will mean the loss of 93 local jobs and break what the Weis family - who sold the business in 2017 - say was a promise by the food giant that the factory would remain in the Garden City.

The family-owned company had humble origins, with the Weis bar starting out as a homegrown recipe of Ms Weis' grandfather, using fruit salad and cream.

Her father, Les Weis, who owned a shop opposite the Empire Theatre in Neil St, Toowoomba, began selling what were then called Fruito Bars in the 1950s before branching out into home delivery and retail distribution.

 

The Courier-Mail readers have reacted strongly to the multi-national food giant's decision to shift production to New South Wales. Here's a taste of what people are saying:

SOME made a call to action to Queensland consumers.

John: The moment the Factory closes that's the last Weis Product I'll buy, and I'll give other Unilever a wide Berth from now on, Boycott Unilever is the only way to deal with them.

Angela: Start a petition to prevent this! Get all of Toowoomba involved!!

Stan: Lets hope someone will make a similar product n Toowoomba ...come on Wagner

Brendan: The easy and most effective way to show our collective displeasure at a foreign multi-national continuing to destroy our local brands and regional communities is to stop buying ALL their products, not just Weis bars.

 

Blake Anderson, 2, enjoys a Mango Weis bar. Picture: Luke Marsden
Blake Anderson, 2, enjoys a Mango Weis bar. Picture: Luke Marsden

 

 

Robert: Very sad what's being allowed to happen to Toowoomba's iconic businesses. The Toowoomba Foundry (maker of the famous Southern Cross windmills) and KR Darling Downs bacon factory were also sold off to outside interests, with the businesses being closed and production moved to southern States, with a consequent loss of local jobs. No more Weis bars for me either.

Paul: It's easy to make this decision hurt for Unilever - They are owners of an obscene amount of products in the supermarket, everything from detergents, toothpastes, food, washing powder - they pretty much control everything. Look for their logo when you are doing your shopping, if you see it, put it back and go for an alternative, but keep buying the Weis bar until they move operations to NSW.

Bret: They were clearly disingenuous from the beginning and any comments to the contrary are simply more lies. To compound the issue these poor employees find themselves losing their jobs around Christmas in a regional town where jobs are hard to find. Weis had meaning as a Toowoomba and Australian product, using local people and produce. As a result we supported them. Now as part of a multinational brand, manufacturing in western Sydney who knows where they will source their produce. They were profitable in Toowoomba but perhaps not as much as they will be in western Sydney after ripping the heart and soul out of Weis. More profit over people yet again. They will not be supporting locals any more in any way and therefore are irrelevant.

Campbell: Someone with a better memory may correct me here, but wasn't it Unilever who, during wage negotiations a few years ago pointed out that it was cheaper for them to make Paddle Pops in the UK and ship them here than to continue making them in the NSW factory? That brought the wage negotiations down a level or two.

At least the manufacturing of the Weis range is staying in Australia at this point. Next round of wage reviews at Minto may find a factory in New Zealand increasing production.

Kerry: Moral is. Never believe the promises of a multinational company. Clive Berghoffer could buy the factory and make Darling Downs Delight bars.

John P: That's it for me. No more Weis ice cream bars.

Realistic: Should have got that written assurance! Just cannot trust these international food giants! Unilever, you suck!

BUT the Weis family also copped a blast from many for their decision to sell to Unilever without having a requirement in the contract of sale to keep the Towwomba factory in operation.

Three generations of the Weis family, Les, daughter Julie and granddaughter Lucy. They sold the company to food giant Unilever in 2017.
Three generations of the Weis family, Les, daughter Julie and granddaughter Lucy. They sold the company to food giant Unilever in 2017.

 

Paul B: They took their thirty pieces of silver. They have no cause for complaint.

Mark: Did they seriously think a large multi-national was going to stay in Toowoomba, and not merge the operation into other parts of the business?

Maybe they shouldn't have gone for the money grab, and stuck by the Toowoomba people.

You can't have your ice cream and eat it too

Global: If keeping the factory was the No 1 priority, the terms were written into the contract of sale, for say a 20 year term post sale. If not, I suggest it wasn't a priority at all.

JA: That's what you get for selling out a home grown product to an overseas multinational. They laughed all the way to the bank, so it's a bit late to shut the gate once the horse has bolted. And I bet between now and next December Unilever will move it all to China!

James: It was inevitable that a giant multi-national such as Unilever was going to do this, 2 years, 3 years mean nothing. Capitalism has no feelings or time for nostalgia, the Weis family pretty much signed off on closing of the Toowoomba factory 2 years ago.

 

Mary Hecker with a Weis bar. File pic Picture: Annette Dew
Mary Hecker with a Weis bar. File pic Picture: Annette Dew

 

 

Richard: WOW imagine that … Unilever broke their promise to the Weis family and the Weis family believed them !!!!!!!

Chris: I sympathise with the people who will lose their jobs because of this decision. For the Weis family to be outraged over Unilever's decision is a bit rich. If the Weis family had really wanted to protect the jobs for the area they should have included a clause in the sale contract requiring Unilever to maintain manufacturing in Toowoomba as long as Weis bars were being made.

William: They sold out for the highest price not what was best for their workers or community, that is business and their right but it is pathetic their trying to paint it any other way.

Mondo: Let's see Weis' family buy it back.

Paul: Having served as a Business Broker for a number of years , these sorts of conditions are routinely included in Business Sale contracts , frankly these folk must have been poorly advised if they thought a "Gentlemen's Agreement" would do it-it will not.

 

Les Weis outside the Weis factory purchased by Unilever. Pic 17th Aug, 2017
Les Weis outside the Weis factory purchased by Unilever. Pic 17th Aug, 2017

 

FOR others Unilever had every right to make commercial decisions about the business they own.

Dan: A corporate decision. They own the company so suck it up.

David: They sold it. Doesn't belong to them The company can do what they like with it.

Kevin: Ec-o-nom-ics. Happy to have the money. Make Unilever an offer.

Laura: Well Unilever has shareholders and usually those corporations are focused on giving a return to the shareholders rather than ethics etc - just like banks and other organisations

Marion: There is no sentiment in business as the old saying goes. Love Weis bars. This day and age, there is no such thing as keeping promises which is really unfortunate for the Weis family.

Paul: It's easy to make this decision hurt for Unilever - They are owners of an obscene amount of products in the supermarket, everything from detergents, toothpastes, food, washing powder - they pretty much control everything. Look for their logo when you are doing your shopping, if you see it, put it back and go for an alternative, but keep buying the Weis bar until they move operations to NSW.

Josephine: Move on... they are!

STEPHEN: Your'e big enough Unilever, change this around. You will get more respect that way.

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JAMES: You cannot do a deal with foreign corporations,or Australian for that matter … the board changes,the original negotiator changes, the CEO changes...and all is forgotten in the blink of an eye...these guys have shareholders to answer to and with the cost of production today being screwed by local council and state government fat cats to prop up their ridiculous salaries and perks at our expense ,these people just pull up stakes and move elsewhere where the cost is much less.

JA: That's what you get for selling out a home grown product to an overseas multinational. They laughed all the way to the bank, so it's a bit late to shut the gate once the horse has bolted. And I bet between now and next December Unilever will move it all to China!

Axel: Even then it does not mean the owner cannot shift the manufacturing to another area , keep the factory and land , no big deal for a conglomerate such as Unilever, simple , don't want your home grown product in o/seas hands DONT sell it even to another Aus company who will likely on- sell it

 

 

Unilever is moving the production of Weis Bar products to New South Wales. Picture: Megan Cullen
Unilever is moving the production of Weis Bar products to New South Wales. Picture: Megan Cullen

 

FOR others the Unilever move is part of a global trend that must be opposed through the actions of local businesses and consumers' personal decisions.

Katy: We brought a small country town General Store 2.5yrs ago. It's profitable, only just. It was a lifestyle decision made for the good of our family. One of the first things I did was pull the Paul's fridges out along with all Parmalat products and introduce a Norco only policy. We also introduced all the Bundaberg and Winners Soft drink range. Slowly but surely, I'm replacing as much overseas owned product as I can with Aussie goods.....and it's just as profitable. It's not rocket science. If retailers everywhere did this and if consumers made a point of buying locally made products then companies like Unilever wouldn't get away with this. Money talks people, the consumer has the power to drive change. If they move Weis production offshore (which I believe they will eventually do), I will remove Weis bars from our freezer. Come on Australia, we all have the power to make change.

Elton: Please everybody read what Katy said, this is the only answer

David D: One of the things people seem to forget about foreign ownership of so many entries in Australia is that it in most cases it was an Australian that sold it to them in the first place to cash in. It is one of the problems of our short history, we have little regard for heritage and identity. It's a get in make a buck and move on. Sad, but it's as Australian as vegemite.

Ian B: A big NZ brewery took over a well loved brewery in the South Island. When they threatened to move it to the North Island the locals said " do that and we stop drinking it."

The brewery stayed.

Kevin: Toowoomba has lost a lot of manufacturing over the years KR Darling Downs, Orford Refigeration, Defiance Milling, Toowoomba Foundry and other smaller enterprises , it appears that with the costs of manufacturing and cheaper imports companies are either shutting down or consolidating in other areas. In time there will be little manufacturing left.

 

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk: “It’s disappointing to hear that Unilever is not honouring its commitment to the family...” Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk: “It’s disappointing to hear that Unilever is not honouring its commitment to the family...” Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

 

PREMIER Annastacia Palaszczuk has now - in response to the Weis family's broadside - urged Unilever to reverse the decision to close the Toowoomba factory.

"It's disappointing to hear that Unilever is not honouring its commitment to the family and the workers about keeping the company in Toowoomba . I would urge the company to stand by their original commitment," she said.

But Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington was widely criticised by readers for her call for the Palszczuk Government to get the commercial decision reversed.

Ellen: The family sold and made a lot of money, they can't really complain now. As for Ms Frecklington playing politics again is just nasty.

Peter: Cheap politics from Deb Frecklington. She knows it's not a government decision and to infer the Palaszczuk government is somehow responsible is poor form.

Stephen: Lets get this clear. A multinational without morals or any social conscience broke a promise and made a commercial decision that they believe it would increase their profits and now everyone is unhappy.

Further, everyone wants the Queensland Government to interfere in a commercial decision and stop the factory being closed. Does the LNP want the Labor government to start interfering in the business decisions of corporations when it suits them, or the LNP or the Toowoomba mayor or anyone else. REALLY??

 

 

Ruth Simard from Currimbin loves the Mango and Macadamia Weis bar. Picture: Luke Marsden
Ruth Simard from Currimbin loves the Mango and Macadamia Weis bar. Picture: Luke Marsden

 

Robert: When the hell is Deb Frecklington going to learn when to shut her gob. Fancy an LNP private sector free trade supporter requesting the government to "GET THE DECISION REVERSED". In a free country our greatest need is to get your ilk out of parliament Deb.

Campbell: Robert, so is it quite alright in your opinion for this Labor Government to spend many $millions of tax payers money to entice Hollywood production companies to come here for a few weeks to make a movie that may make them $millions that will never come near the Queensland or Australian economies? Post production will be done in facilities back in the US, so no ongoing employment for Queenslanders.

The State Government can find incentives including reduced Payroll Taxes and streamlined processing on the endless Government permits needed by every employer and manufacturer these days.

John P: They have offered incentives to many other companies to set up in Queensland so why not try again. Ask Them to move their NSW manufacturing to Queensland for some tax exemptions such as stamp duty. The other States offer incentives.

 

Paul B: What in heaven's name do you think any politician could do about this?

 

 

Deb Frecklington: “I implore the Palaszczuk Labor Government to pull every lever it can to get this decision reversed.” Picture: AAP Image/Rob Maccoll
Deb Frecklington: “I implore the Palaszczuk Labor Government to pull every lever it can to get this decision reversed.” Picture: AAP Image/Rob Maccoll


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