Alt tobacco company lands in Westfield

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A California-based company specializing in an alternative to smokeless tobacco products has chosen Westfield for its new headquarters, a moved welcomed by the city council.

At the March 11 Westfield City Council meeting, members unanimously approved a resolution establishing tax abatements for Grinds, LLC at its new headquarters, production facility and warehouse at 17075 Oak Ridge Rd. The property is in an area the council deemed an economic revitalization area in June 2008, allowing the body to offer the tax abatement.

Grinds, LLC manufactures small pouches of flavored coffee grounds as a tobacco-cessation product. Originally designed to be an alternative for smokeless/chewing tobacco (popular brands include Copenhagen, Grizzly, Skoal, etc.), the product has now been developed into an energy source, similar to — and arguably healthier than — an energy drink, according to Ken Warren, Grinds’ chief operations officer, who presented the Grinds platform to councilors at the meeting.

Warren said one pouch is equal in caffeine to approximately a quarter-cup of coffee.

“We’re looking forward to opening our new production facility and warehouse in Westfield,” Warren said. “We are relocating our headquarters from Oakland, Calif., that employs about 26 people currently. Those will all be moved here. The average salary is $40,000, and that’s a conservative number. The lowest-paying job will be $35,000 with no overtime. The capital investment is $5.7 million, and that includes the production facility, the inside of an existing warehouse as well as capital equipment purchases for our manufacturing lines.”

The entire facility will be approximately 27,000 square feet, 7,500 of which will be production space. Warren said the space will allow the company to produce approximately 10 times the volume of product. An estimated 56 new jobs will be added during the company’s abatement period of five years.

The tax abatement of 100 percent in the first year will decline by 20 percent each subsequent year.

Warren said a can of 18 to 20 pouches can cost between $4.50 and $5, depending on the area, and will be sold in convenience stores in a variety of flavors, including black coffee, vanilla, caramel, cinnamon roll, mocha, cherry, wintergreen, Irish cream, mint chocolate and peppermint. The company recently struck a deal with Casey’s General Stores to sell the pouches.

Lasts year, Grinds sold 2.5 million units. Construction is set to begin this month, and company leaders expect the facility to be operational by July.

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