The iconic mango Weis bar
The iconic mango Weis bar

Employees blindsided by decision to close Weis factory

EMPLOYEES at the Weis factory in Harlaxton have been blindsided by parent company Unilever's announcement it would stop manufacturing the iconic ice cream in Toowoomba.

Unilever Australia and New Zealand CEO Clive Stiff travelled to Toowoomba yesterday to break the news to staff, telling them the factory would gradually ramp down operations and close in December 2020.

The closure will ultimately cost 93 people their jobs.

After buying the family-owned Weis company in August 2017, Unilever assured Toowoomba and the Weis family the manufacturing operation would remain in the city.

Yesterday, the company said "following an extensive review" of its business, the Weis line of ice creams would be manufactured out of its existing Minto site in New South Wales.

Mr Stiff said it was the company's "firm intention to keep manufacturing at Toowoomba", citing investments made over the past two years.

"However, the ice cream market - in terms of costs, competition and distribution channels - has changed very quickly and pressure on our business has significantly increased," he said.

Consolidating the company's Australian ice cream manufacturing operations was necessary, Mr Stiff said.

"This is not a decision we have taken lightly and we recognise that this announcement will affect everyone on site at Toowoomba as well as the local community," he said.

"We have spoken to the Weis family and we appreciate their deep disappointment, and we understand this is not something they would have foreseen when they sold the business to Unilever."

Unilever said opportunities would be available for employees who wished to transfer to other parts of the business.

The company has also established a dedicated support program to assist employees in preparing for new job opportunities.

The Weis ice cream business was founded by Les Weis in 1957.

He sold his first Weis bar at Pop's Milk Bar, opposite the Empire Theatre.

When it was sold to Unilever in 2017, Weis accounted for about 4 per cent of the $2.3 billion retail ice cream market.

Mr Stiff acknowledged the role the Weis factory had played in the Toowoomba community and said the company was planning to set aside 25 per cent of the proceeds from the future sale of the site for the benefit of the community.

"We will be consulting with our employees and local community leaders to ensure the funds are spent in a way that best serves the needs of Toowoomba," he said.

"We are particularly interested in … groups that support long-term skills development and employment opportunities."

The Chronicle understands the first redundancies will take place in mid-2020 as the factory transitions toward its closure.