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Lightlife sold to private equity firm

New owner says Turners Falls plant will stay open

TURNERS FALLS — Lightlife and the Turners Falls factory that produces the line of soy-based meat alteratives have changed hands.

Connecticut-based private equity firm Brynwood Partners announced on Monday that it has purchased the Lightlife brand and factory from ConAgra Foods.

The factory is one of Montague’s largest employers and the brand is a Franklin County original.

According to a release from Brynwood, the new Lightlife Foods will be headquartered in the Boston area but its manufacturing facility will remain in Turners Falls.

Terms and conditions of the sale, including the purchase price, were not disclosed.

The release suggests the possibility of expansion.

“We look forward to investing in Lightlife Foods and extending the company’s refrigerated and frozen meatless offerings,” Brynwood Senior Managing Partner Henk Hartong III is quoted as saying, in part.

Told of the sale, chairman of the Montague Board of Selectmen Mark Fairbrother worried about jobs.

“Well it’s obviously a large employer. I don’t care who owns it, it’s just a question of whether the jobs stay,” Fairbrother said. “You said equity firm, that doesn’t bode well.”

Chia Collins and Michael Cohen founded Lightlife in Greenfield in 1979, moving to Turners Falls in 1998. Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods bought the company in 2000 for an undisclosed amount. At that time, Lightlife employed 150 people.

Lightlife was the town’s second largest employer in 2010, when ConAgra announced 10 jobs would be cut as the company dissolved the administrative offices and moved those jobs to existing employees in its Omaha headquarters, leaving 115 to 116 jobs in manufacturing and sales at the factory, according to a spokesman at the time.

Daniel Hare, a ConAgra spokesperson reached Monday, said the plant currently employs approximately 90 people and those employees transferred with the sale. Hare referred questions about the future to the new owner.

Ann Hamilton, director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks the company has been a good employer.

“We’ve had a good relationship with the company and they’ve certainly supported the Green River Festival for many years, and the triathlon in Greenfield,” Hamilton said. “They had some changes in management a few years ago, but nothing particular changed.”

Lightlife’s products include soy-based hotdogs, hamburger, faux meat crumbles, soy and wheat imitation deli meats and other bean and grain foods.

Brynwood’s portfolio includes DeMet’s Candy Company, Pearson Candy Company (both engaged in manufacture and marketing of several candy brands), Back to Nature Foods Co. (a marketer of granola products and crackers) and High Ride Brands (marketing products including Alberto VO5 shampoo).

Lightlife and Brynwood representatives could not be reached by press time.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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