Barbara's to leave Petaluma

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Natural foods maker Barbara's Bakery will close its Petaluma offices within the next six months as its parent company consolidates operations at a facility in Massachusetts.

Weetabix North America, owner of the 40-year-old Barbara's Bakery brand, announced the consolidation Thursday afternoon, calling it a way to "operate and compete more efficiently."

Barbara's, the maker of Puffins breakfast cereal and a variety of natural-food snacks, has 24 employees in Petaluma who will be affected by the consolidation, the company said in a statement. Barbara's "will work with current employees to customize personal transition plans."

All the Petaluma employees were told they would be considered for employment in new roles at the Weetabix facility in Clinton, Mass., a company spokeswoman said Friday.

Barbara's was founded in Palo Alto in 1971 by 17-year-old Barbara Jaffe, who tapped her college fund and began making natural breads in a rented storefront.

Her company, one of the first natural bakeries in Northern California, soon grew into a successful wholesale business, making products without refined sugar or artificial additives or preservatives. The company was sold in 1986 to Weetabix, one of the world's largest cereal makers.

In 2004 Weetabix was acquired by Latimer Group Limited, a company incorporated by Lions Capital. Latimer employs more than 2,000 people worldwide and had sales in 2010 of nearly $700 million.

Barbara's Bakery moved to Petaluma in 1988, making it the home of its corporate headquarters and a $3.5 million distribution center.

In 2010 the company rolled out new packaging that featured a pastoral landscape and the words "Petaluma, California" on the front of its boxes for cereals and snacks.

The company then had 50 workers in Petaluma and in the field as sales representatives. Weetabix has nearly 500 employees in North America.

Along with the coming consolidation, Weetabix plans to switch its product distribution for the western U.S. to an outside company.

"These business changes will create a simpler and stronger company focused on bringing the same great affordable products — along with new ones — to store shelves and pantries across North America," according to the press release.

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