Dole Food Co. Inc. in Westlake Village has announced another mass layoff relating to strawberries as the company continues to back out of its California berry operations.
The company told the state’s Employment Development Department that it would lay off more than 400 employees at its Northern California strawberry harvesting and cooling operations in Watsonville, and portions of the business will close starting Oct. 28, Dole informed the state in a required notice that warns of upcoming large layoffs.
Dole, according to recent news reports citing undisclosed sources, may also be exploring a sale of the company. Also in April, the grower of fresh fruit and vegetables applied to go public for a third time, and the company has been liquidating assets to help reduce its massive $1.3 billion of debt.
Closing operations in Watsonville is a significant step as the region is the largest strawberry producer in the state. California grows about 88 percent of the nation’s strawberries, according to the California Strawberry Commission. Dole also recently announced layoffs and the closing of pre-harvest and cooling operations at its Oxnard plant. The moves are part of a greater effort by Dole to restructure and sell off parts of its overall berry product segment.
Dole’s closure is the most recent in a series of strawberry and raspberry ranches and facilities that have closed over the last three years in Ventura County and other key berry growing areas in California, as growers react to market oversupply, lower profits and other issues.
In another move, Dole is considering trading its non-income generating headquarters for the income-generating Dole Plantation in Hawaii, the site of a popular tourist business, and owned by Dole’s director and owner David Murdock under his more diverse business, Castle & Cooke Inc. Dole has said it plans to remain in Westlake Village.