KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Key executives with Sara Lee Corporation, as well as equipment suppliers, customers, media and city officials, were on hand to commemorate the opening of the company’s flagship slicing facility in Kansas City, Kan earlier today. A brownfield project, Sara Lee renovated the 25-year-old plant as part of a $140 million makeover of what is now a 200,000-sq.-ft., highly automated facility that began limited production in the first quarter of 2011.

Sara Lee bought the former Armour Eckrich processing plant in 2009, after Smithfield Foods announced it would close the facility in 2007. It is the company’s eleventh meat plant in the US.

“We are four months into a nine-month ramp up,” and about 235 of the 255 jobs at the plant have been filled, said John McAndrew, the company’s vice president of operations, during a media tour of the facility. McAndrew said the location of the former facility made it logistically appealing for the company to invest in this project as did the access to a qualified pool of workers to fill many high-tech positions.

By incorporating numerous robotic and other automated technologies, officials say the “no-touch” plant requires only half the number of employees traditionally needed for an operation of this scope while being able to reduce processing time by 50 percent. CJ Fraleigh, CEO of Sara Lee North America, said the addition of the slicing operation is part of an effort to grow sales of the company’s Hillshire Farm brand of products to the $1 billion mark, with about 50 percent of its sliced meats production, including products from the Sara Lee Deli brand, coming from the new plant.

“It is a big deal,” he said. “It’s the single biggest capital investment we have made in the past few years.”