"It was just horrible news."
That's the reaction from one of Sanford's long-standing employees after being told the Tauranga fish processing plant may close and 65 jobs could go.
Sanford's chief executive Volker Kuntzsch made the announcement at the Cross St site in Sulphur Point on Wednesday to the plant's 77 staff.
Chief operating officer Clement Chia said the proposed closure was because of a number of reasons, but there were two key factors.
The impact of Covid-19 meant Sanford was processing less fish caught by other companies, and the state of the buildings at the plant, which did not meet new seismic-strength requirements.
The company had installed a second fish-processing line at the end of last year and was planning for a strong future in Tauranga, he said.
"But we would have needed to rebuild or move out within the next few years. The pandemic has unfortunately shortened that timeline."
Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times at his Bethlehem home yesterday, Ken O'Sullivan said he was still reeling from the news.
"I haven't been able to sleep since and I can't stop thinking about what just happened.
It's just horrible news."
O'Sullivan, 65, a fish filleting tutor, said he had worked for Sanford for about 40 years,
since joining the company in 1971 at age 16.
Apart from a couple of breaks, Sanford's had been his main employer. He had been a factory manager for seven years and managed the retail shop for 15 years.
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For the past 10 years O'Sullivan said he has been training younger staff in the art of fish filleting, a job he was "very passionate" about and "loves".
O'Sullivan said a quite a few of 77 staff at the plant had worked for Sanford for more than 40 years and it was possibly the only job they knew since leaving school.
"While I had a bit of inkling that things were not looking good a few months back, despite Sanford's future expansion plans, I didn't realise things were this bad.
"I can understand why the plant may have close as Covid-19 has hit a lot of businesses really hard. But it doesn't make the news that so many people may lose their jobs, including me, any easier to take.
During the lockdown, Sanford's looked after us 100 per cent and they were brilliant in terms of their support and most of us were able to keep working through it, he said.
"I think this may have given me a bit false hope that we were going to come through the lockdown in reasonably good shape."
O'Sullivan said he also felt sorry for the other workers many who had young families.
"It's come as a huge blow. There were lots of tears and also anger from some of the workers but most people didn't know how to react ... It's just horrible news."
O'Sullivan said the announcement meeting was a sombre affair and even Sanford's chief executive Volker Kuntzsch was "quivering" as he delivered the news.
"Most of the workers didn't say much and although I got up to speak and got a round of applause at the end, I can't tell you what I said, all I know is that we all still reeling."
O'Sullivan said Kuntzsch and the other company officers involved in the announcement and staff consultation process had done their best to deliver the news sensitively.
"But they [Sanford officials] were really talking to some dazed and disbelieving people and I think even one of the plant managers didn't appear to know this was coming either.
"For such an iconic local business to be talking about closing and possible redundancies is a huge blow. Over the years, thousands of locals would have also worked for Sanford.
"Not matter what happens I need to keep working, not just for financial reasons, but for the sake of my mental health."
O'Sullivan said he and most of the other workers were sent to home with a bunch of documents to read and they need to provide feedback on the proposal by August 10.
Counselling services had been offered to the staff and Sanford had also provided a list of 20 to 30 current job vacancies at other sites including Auckland and Bluff.
Sanford said it would meet staff again on August 12 to discuss their feedback.