Two women look at the B&M Baked Bean factory on Portland's waterfront on Tuesday Aug. 31. 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

News that the B&M Baked Beans factory would shut down by the end of this year to make way for a technology campus surprised many whose regular commutes past the Portland building rekindled childhood memories of beans and franks on Saturday night.

But union workers saw the signs well before the announcement.

“Our production was down, so it didn’t come as that big of a surprise,” John Jordan, financial secretary of the main union working at the company, said. “We just weren’t sure of the date.”

While B&M looms large over Portland’s skyline, it is a small part of B&G Foods, the conglomerate whose largest brand is Green Giant. B&G Foods saw canned good sales spike from April to June of last year as people loaded pantries during the pandemic. But they declined by 9 percent to $464 million during the same three months this year. Transportation and raw materials costs also rose significantly.

In announcing the sale on Monday, the food company said the move “is consistent with B&G Foods’ ongoing efforts to improve productivity and reduce overall costs.” The factory’s manufacturing operations will be moved to the Midwest by the end of this year or early next year.

B&M’s business dates back to 1867 in Portland. The factory moved from the downtown to its current location off of Interstate 295 in 1913, where it is one of the most prominent businesses in the rapidly changing city and a link to its working-class past. The factory will become the anchor to Northeastern University’s Roux Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, a high-tech center that is expected to be key to the city’s future.

Seventy-six of the 87 workers at the factory belong to the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Local 334, which is down from 300 workers in B&M’s heyday, Jordan said.

B&G Foods sent representatives to meet with the workers on each of the three shifts and to work out what he termed a “respectful severance package,” Jordan said.

Benefits for those workers will run until the end of the year and union members are getting assistance looking for jobs or being placed at other union jobs. A closing date has not yet been determined.

“They handled it well,” Jordan said. “I’m disappointed it is coming to an end. The factory is a staple in this area.”

The factory is showing its age, with B&M taking down its iconic smokestack in August because it was in poor condition and had not been used for 20 years.

“People were already asking me if the plant was closing then,” Jordan said.