Sara Lee seeks Chicago home for MeatCo

CEO announces plans to move to city from Downers Grove after 2012 split into beverage- and meat-oriented companies

October 07, 2011|By Emily Bryson York and Alejandra Cancino, Tribune reporters
Sara Lee’s CEO expects to move the food company from Downers Grove to Chicago after it splits next year, according to a memo sent to employees.

Sara Lee’s North American business, which makes Jimmy Dean and Hillshire Farm sausages and is known as MeatCo, has been rumored to be shopping for downtown locations since the spring.

“We believe that a downtown location will provide MeatCo with an environment that will be energetic, foster breakthrough thinking, create revolutionary products, offer fresh perspectives and own the market,” Chief Executive Marcel Smits wrote in the email to company workers Wednesday.

“At this time, we are not ready to disclose any specific site information as we continue to do our due diligence,” Smits said, adding that “the locations we are currently considering are all close to mass transit and to enable an easy commute.”

The note was sent in response to employee questions regarding where they might be working next year, according to someone familiar with the matter.

“We are still looking at options both in the suburbs and in the city,” Sara Lee spokesman Mike Cummins wrote in an email. “No decision has been made yet.” He declined to comment further.

Sara Lee plans to split in the first half of 2012 into two stand-alone companies: one that will comprise Sara Lee’s North American retail division, and an international beverage business, which makes Senseo and Douwe Egberts coffee, and has the working name of CoffeeCo.

CoffeeCo’s headquarters have yet to be determined, but most of its employees are in Europe.

The meat-focused company will be significantly smaller than Sara Lee Corp., but the company has yet to provide a projected head count.

Sara Lee’s potential move has implications for Downers Grove, where the Village Council has approved an expansion to a parking garage near the company’s headquarters at 3500 Lacey Drive.

Sara Lee selected its Downers Grove headquarters in 2005 as part of a broader consolidation effort that brought together 1,000 employees from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Rolling Meadows and Chicago. That year, the company was preparing to spin off its Hanes and Playtex brands to focus on food, beverages and household products.

Since then, Sara Lee has received at least $4.5 million in state incentives for projects in Downers Grove and Rochelle, Ill. Those incentives include tax credits and training funds, according to the state’s Corporate Accountability website.

Michael Cassa, president of the Downers Grove Economic Development Corp., declined to comment.

Twitter @emilyyork (JNS)


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This blog and its accompanying Twitter account have been established as social media learning tools for the Internal Communications and Employee Engagement class at Columbia College Chicago. Through this blog, we will share our observations about current events, change management and employee communications theory, and the application of social media in shaping employee engagement.
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