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Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get. The same can ring true for business, apparently, as boxed-chocolate maker Russell Stover—one of the major employers in Montrose—announced last Tuesday that it will be closing its western Colorado plant in spring 2021, eliminating nearly 400 jobs from Montrose County. Though the company is now headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, it was founded in Denver in 1923, and has been a primary employer in Montrose for over 50 years.
“It really is bittersweet for us to know that Russell Stover was founded in Colorado—in Denver—and now we’re leaving,” Russell Stover spokesperson Robbie Vorhaus says. “It’s like losing somebody close to you.”
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The company announced that it will expand its facilities in Corsicana and Abilene, Texas, and Iola, Kansas, adding roughly 300 new job opportunities between the three locations; affected Montrose employees will have the opportunity to transfer to those locales, if they choose. The company will also close select low-traffic retail stores over the course of the next year, according to the statement released last week. Vorhaus notes that all of these shifts come as a move to adjust to consumers’ changing tastes. “Russell Stover chocolate has become more popular with Millennials and Gen Zs,” Vorhaus says. “The way that chocolate is being purchased has changed though—just as Amazon has shown us how they’ve changed online shopping—people started buying more chocolate online.”
Vorhaus says the company will take the next 14 months to have one-on-one meetings with Montrose employees to help them find a role at one of the other plants or another job elsewhere for those who don’t wish to transfer. Vorhaus says workers will not be punished in any way if they seek out other employment between now and spring 2021, and severance and all other benefits will still be provided for employees who continue working through the close date, according to the company statement.
The City of Montrose also stepped up immediately to support affected workers, forming a response team the same day as the Russell Stover announcement to begin talking about next steps and communicate with Russell Stover to assist in the transition process.
The company was bought by Swiss chocolate company Lindt & Sprüngli North American almost six years ago, and also announced that they will be closing their fulfillment centers in Cookeville, Tennessee and Butler, Missouri later this year as a part of the continued planned restructuring with the parent company. Russell Stover has remained one of the nation’s largest producer of boxed chocolates over the years, selling more Valentine’s heart-shaped assortments and chocolate Easter bunnies that any other chocolate maker in North America. “We’re lucky we’re getting a younger audience and consumer purchasing has changed,” Vorhaus says. “It’s not bad news—but it’s hard news.”