Awkward messages emerge from overseas owner of Aussie ice-cream icon Weis promising to keep factory in Queensland open. Yesterday, its closure was announced.


Unilever, the $240 billion British-Dutch firm that bought the ice-cream company from the Weis family just two years ago, assured customers at the time that there would “no changes to where we make our products” and the Toowoomba factory was safe.

One sceptical customer replied “time will tell”.

Yesterday, Unilever said it would shut the Toowoomba plant with the loss of almost 100 jobs.

Julie Weis, the former managing director of the company and daughter of founder Les Weis, said she would have never have sold the family firm if she knew Unilever would break its commitment to the factory.

“Keeping the manufacturing local and the jobs was our number one priority in the sale,” Ms Weis said.

Weis by name, British-Dutch multibillion-dollar corporate goliath by nature. Picture: Megan Cullen.Source:News Limited

Les Weis outside the Weis factory in 2017 after its purchase by Unilever.

Les Weis outside the Weis factory in 2017 after its purchase by Unilever.Source:News Regional Media

Unilever, which last year recorded global profits of $A18 billion, has said it will shift production of Weis bars to its Streets factory in western Sydney where Magnums and Cornettos are churned out.

But it was singing a very different tune two years ago when the company was full of warm promises to worried customers who foresaw just the current outcome.

‘NO CHANGES’ ASSURANCE FROM UNILEVER

Unilever took over Weis in August 2017 and shortly afterwards assumed management of the Weis social media accounts.

On Facebook, Unilever spoke glowingly about how the new curvy Weis logo was a “farewell gift” from the family.

But customers were more concerned by what would happen to the firm and where the products would be manufactured now it was outside of Australian control.

Unfortunately, they did.

Unfortunately, they did.Source:Facebook

“Don’t ever leave Toowoomba and you’ll always be my favourite,” said Helena Langton.

“I hope Unilever don’t stuff up this company nor leave Toowoomba,” said Leanne Russell. “Hope the Weis workers will be OK,” said another.

“Hope the new owners don’t change a thing!!” said Simone Pearson.

The now Unilever-controlled Weis replied that there would be “no changes to how or where we make our products!”

An awkward social media message from Weis, by then owned by Unilever, assuring customers its factory would remain open.

An awkward social media message from Weis, by then owned by Unilever, assuring customers its factory would remain open.Source:Supplied

At one point Unilever was excited about its Weis purchase and the Toowoomba factory.

At one point Unilever was excited about its Weis purchase and the Toowoomba factory.Source:Facebook

PROMISE BROKEN

It even posted a picture of Weis bars rolling off the “conveyor belt of dreams” in Toowoomba.

Others were less convinced. One person said: “Products always go to crap when overseas companies take over.”

Not so, assured Unilever, which also makes Continental sauces, Lipton tea, Omo washing powder and Domestos bleach.

“Please be assured there will be no changes to how or where our products are made,” a company post read.

“We’ll still continue to make our Weis flavours in our Toowoomba factory, using our same recipe and same ingredients – just more widely available.”

“I like you optimism,” came the reply. “Time will tell I guess.”

And time indeed showed that the optimism was misplaced and the Toowoomba plant was doomed.

On Thursday, Unilever said the “difficult decision” came after an “extensive review of its Australia and New Zealand ice-cream business”.

The plant will close its doors fully in December 2020 with the axing of 93 positions.

Butsy’s prediction that only ‘time will tell’ was correct.

Butsy’s prediction that only ‘time will tell’ was correct.Source:Facebook

“We did not anticipate this decision when we acquired Weis from the Weis family in 2017,” Unilever Australia and New Zealand chief executive Clive Stiff said in a statement.

“It was our firm intention to keep manufacturing at Toowoomba, which is why we have made major investments in the site over the past two-and-a-half 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.”

RELATED: Weis family speaks out as Unilever closes factory, two years after purchasing business

Mr Stiff said all ice cream in Australia would now be made at its Minto, Sydney, factory.

Generous redundancy terms for staff who didn’t want to head to Sydney would be offered, fruit for the bars would continue to come from Queensland and 25 per cent of the proceeds of the future sale of the site would be ring-fenced for “the benefit of the Toowoomba community”.

“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,” Mr Stiff said.

Three generations of the Weis family, Les, daughter Julie (left) and granddaughter Lucy. They are up in arms about Unilever’s decision.

Three generations of the Weis family, Les, daughter Julie (left) and granddaughter Lucy. They are up in arms about Unilever’s decision.Source:News Limited

The family said they knew nothing could ever be guaranteed, but they would not have sold their business if they knew Unilever would leave Toowoomba so fast.

Ms Weis said the family had been assured that manufacturing operations would stay local, and they were “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“Keeping the manufacturing local and the jobs was our number one priority in the sale,” Ms Weis told the Courier Mail.

“That did not mean it could never happen, but it is only two years (after the sale). This is a sad day for us.”

Unilever's Dutch headquarters in Rotterdam.

Unilever’s Dutch headquarters in Rotterdam.Source:istock

Weis bars will be made at the Streets factory in Minto.

Weis bars will be made at the Streets factory in Minto.Source:News Limited

‘SHAME ON YOU, UNILEVER’

Toowoomba Regional Council mayor Paul Antonio told The Chronicle the news came as a shock. “That is devastating news,” he said.

Mr Antonio said Unilever’s comments in 2017 had led him to be “very confident that the Weis factory would continue (operating) well into the future”.

“I just think that’s so sad,” he said.

“The loss of 93 jobs in a place like Toowoomba is significant. Our thoughts are with those who’ve lost their jobs. Given this is an iconic organisation that was really putting Toowoomba on the map, I’m a bit shocked by it.”

Ms Russell, who posted on Weis’ Facebook page in 2017 hoping for the best, was back again yesterday with a follow-up message.

“Shame on Unilever. Your company obviously has no concern for Toowoomba. You have lost me as a customer,” she said.

Has the closure of Weis in Toowoomba affected you? Email benedict.brook@news.com.au



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