Safeway Inc. will close its bread-baking plant in Landover next month, laying off 78 workers and pulling the plug on its last East Coast manufacturing operation.
The supermarket chain, the region's second largest, said that baking bread in-house for its 142 Washington area stores is no longer cost-effective, so it will outsource the business to Stroehmann Bakeries LC of Horsham, Pa.
The decision reflects a growing trend in the supermarket industry, which has steadily moved away from using its own employees to manufacture and package store brand goods.
In the past 10 years, Safeway has shut down its ice cream plant in Capitol Heights and its milk plant in Landover. Giant Food LLC has sold its bakery in Silver Spring and bottling plant in Jessup.
Safeway, based in Pleasanton, Calif., opened the 165,000-square-foot Landover bakery in 1968 to supply its local stores with dozens of Safeway-brand breads. The plant now bakes 80 different varieties, from raisin bread to dinner rolls.
Safeway spokesman Greg TenEyck said customers are unlikely to notice the switch because Stroehmann will leave Safeway's recipes and packaging largely unchanged. The supermarket will continue to operate its in-store bakeries, which make doughnuts and rolls.
The bakery closing, scheduled for Aug. 21, was a jolt to its employees, said Michael R. Murphy, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 99, which has seven members in the facility.
"A lot of these guys have worked at the plant for more than 20 years," he said. "There are a lot of years there."
James Murphy, a 53-year old engineer at the plant, had planned to retire after 25 years to maximize his benefits. He has two years to go. His union job paid him $65,000 in 2003 and he suspects that the bakery workers' prospects for finding jobs with comparable pay are bleak.
"A lot of these people are going to be hurt," he said.
Staff writer Raymund Flandez contributed to this report.