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Bob Evans focuses on convenience foods, side dish production

The recent Bob Evans Farms Inc. plant expansion in Xenia Twp. is part of the company’s efforts to consolidate operations and expand convenience food and side dish production, according to company officials.

In late April, the company announced a $6.15 million expansion of its 30,000-square-foot sausage production facility on Birch Road which is expected to create about 22 additional jobs and $800,000 payroll in Greene County.

“It really solidifies Bob Evans’ commitment to the county and the region, and it really solidifies their presence here for years to come,” said Pete Williams, the Greene County Development Department acting director. “They chose our site over a site in Hillsdale, Mich. for the expansion.”

Over the last four years, Bob Evans side dishes and food service production has grown while retail sausage and frozen foods has shrunk, according to company data.

Side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and macaroni and cheese, accounted for 29 percent of production while food service accounted for 14 percent in 2009. In 2013, side dishes accounted for 39 percent of production while food service accounted for 29 percent.

Retail sausage production dipped 12 percentage points from 36 percent in 2009 to 24 percent in 2013. Frozen foods, such as the company’s line of breakfast burrito products, dropped 9 percentage points from 14 percent to 5 percent over the same time period.

“Refrigerated side dishes and convenience products are in a fledgling category with growth potential — it has a household penetration of just 10 percent,” said Mike Townsley, Bob Evans Foods, Inc. president. “While we didn’t invent the category, we believe growth will come from the strength of the Bob Evans brand. It gives the meal preparer permission to pick up and buy. There’s a high expectation of quality.”

Bob Evans most recent results released in March 2014 showed profits, over a three-month period ending Jan. 24, were $5.7 million, compared to a $55.1 million net loss during the same period in 2013.

The Xenia Twp. facility is one of four plants that remained after Bob Evans decided to consolidate operations and shut down five facilities including plants in Springfield and Bidwell. In 2012, the company announced plans to close its 38,000 square-foot Springfield facility which produced sausage, soups and gravy. About 50 people were expected to lose their jobs.

That same year, the company also closed plants in Fullerton, Calif. and Richardson, Texas.

“Over the last several years we have been transforming our BEF Foods segment for profitable growth,” said Steven A. Davis, Bob Evans Farms, LLC chairman and CEO. “With the consolidation of our manufacturing facilities and the acquisition and subsequent expansion of our Lima, Ohio, plant, we continue to grow our side dish business, which is now the largest part of our foods segment. This growth, and the growth of our food service business, present us with a host of strategic opportunities. We believe vertical integration of the Lima facility puts us in the best position to further capitalize on this trend.”

In Aug. 2012, the Bob Evans purchased Kettle Creations in Lima, a refrigerated food manufacturer, for about $50 million and started a $27 million expansion to add 50,000 square feet to the facility in the fall. Two months later, the company opened a new transportation center in Springfield creating 110 jobs.

“Bob Evans is working to ignite the growth of our foods business, and our newly announced expansion (in) Xenia, where we produce our heritage product of fresh sausage, also reflects our continued commitment to making that happen,” Davis said. “This is a strategic investment, designed to capitalize and build on the asset that currently exists in this facility – strong community partnerships, an outstanding workforce and significant opportunity for long-term growth.”

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