Near the Danone factory in Parets del Vallès (province of Barcelona) you can visit a museum dedicated to the origins of the French multinational. There are some of the cars that transported the yogurts formulated by Isaac Carasso to the pharmacies of the Catalan capital, when the food was sold as a medicinal product. The exhibition highlights the intense connection with Barcelona, where the group was founded in 1919, but just a few meters away there are signs that this bond is no longer as strong. “Danone leaves my mother on the street”; “Danone feeds the unemployed”; “No to closure”…
The fence that surrounds the plant is full of t-shirts where some of its 157 workers have written messages against the closure of the facilities, whose final closure could take a year. The shock is absolute among the squad. “We didn’t expect it, it caught us completely off guard,” says an employee at the factory gates who prefers not to give his name. At his age, he laments, finding a new job in the industrial sector will not be easy.
The Barcelona plant had already lost production for export
Only 23 of the 157 workers are over 55 years old and are, therefore, eligible for early retirement. Unions and the company are negotiating solutions, such as possible voluntary transfers to the Aldaia factory, in the Valencian Community, where Danone will carry 90% of Parets’ current production. The rest – the vegetable protein references – will go to Belgium. The first option, however, is the search for a buyer who will maintain the facility and preserve the maximum number of jobs, as happened with the Danone plant in Salas last year, acquired by the Dutch company Royal A-ware and specialized in cheese making.
Parets has produced 130,000 tons of dairy products at its peak and was a pioneer in the manufacture of some of the company’s emblematic categories, such as Danacol or Actimel. The quantities, however, have been falling over time. “Before we also produced for export to the United Kingdom or France,” explains Jordi Barragan, president of the Danone Works Council in Parets, but this segment was moved to other plants in the group.
Sources from the multinational explain that this investment was intended to adapt production to demand. “The company opted for the production of plant-based products in this plant and the modernization of the facilities to adapt to this new trend,” they say. However, the investment effort was not enough, the group continues, to balance production capacity with sales. Currently, 45% of the factory’s capacity is unused. “We have been experiencing a decline for years in terms of volume of some of the dairy products manufactured at the Parets plant, and this has made us lose competitiveness,” Danone sources insist. Produits Frais Laitiers Iberia, the group’s dominant company in Spain, earned 10.8 million in 2022 (latest data available in the commercial registry), 36% less than in the previous year. Ten years ago, the company earned 75 million in Spain, although the perimeter of the company was different.
The group insists that its commitment to Catalonia continues with the maintenance of the Sant Hilari water bottling plant, the Montcada i Reixac packaging selection plant, and its R&D center and offices in Barcelona.
The unions, on the other hand, regret that since the total separation of the Catalan shareholders from the Spanish subsidiary, the group has been working with France in mind. The process, however, “has to go well.” They consider that the company is risking a high reputational price with the closure of Parets, which has been in operation for 41 years, due to its symbolic value. With its closure, the region where the first Danones in history were born will no longer produce these yogurts.