Peculiar Pittsburgh

What’s with the steam coming off that old Heinz plant in Pittsburgh?

A reader’s curiosity piqued ours — so we went looking for answers.

The Riverbend Foods factory, formerly a Heinz factory, off of Route 28 on the North Side is pictured.

The Riverbend Foods factory, formerly a Heinz factory, off of Route 28 on the North Side is pictured.

COLIN DEPPEN / THE INCLINE
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Updated 2:50 p.m. Sept. 19, 2018

Every morning, Maureen Kelly Busis drives past the old Heinz plant off Route 28 on her way to the Three Rivers Rowing boathouse.

“I swing around Route 28 and see those smoke stacks and sometimes they’re belching smoke or steam or something and I think, ‘Gosh, I didn’t think they’re still manufacturing there, but something’s happening.’”

Kelly Busis wanted to know what that something is and asked The Incline to investigate as part of our reader-driven Peculiar Pittsburgh series. She asked us:

I see smoke pouring out of the Heinz smokestacks while driving on Route 28. Made me wonder what’s being produced there and in Pittsburgh in general.

We love a good “whose smokestack is it anyway?” mystery as much as the next yinzer, so we jumped at the chance to investigate for her.

It didn’t take us long.

After a few dead ends, we reached Amanda Campos, Heinz Lofts’ assistant manager. Campos said that while most of the former Heinz buildings at the site were converted into apartments, the smokestack building is still part of an active factory.

Campos said the factory now belongs to Riverbend Foods. According to Riverbend’s website, it produces “baby food, soups (including drinkable soups, gravies, sauces, broths) and cold brew coffee” there. The 625,000 square foot production facility on the North Side has more than 400 plant employees, according to its website.

Riverbend purchased the plant from another company in April 2017. The other company, TreeHouse Foods, Inc., manufactured baby food and soup there, as well.

Riverbend halted production in March amid a row with the union representing its employees. The company considered closing the plant but ultimately decided to keep it open, the Post-Gazette reported in April. Riverbend executives declined multiple requests for comment for this article.

After talking to Campos, we also walked to the facility to see if for ourselves. It appears the smokestacks in question, each emblazoned with “Heinz 57,” aren’t emitting anything at all. The steam is instead rising from a vent on top of the roof below.

So, to answer Kelly Busis’ initial question, baby food and soup are being manufactured at the old Heinz plant off Route 28. It’s not exactly clear what’s producing that steam, as the company declined to comment.

As for the second part of her query: “It made me curious about what is made here now that Pittsburgh is no longer a mechanical, blue-collar kind of a place and now that manufacturing has been replaced by eds and meds,” Kelly Busis told The Incline.

While Pittsburgh’s manufacturing economy has definitely been trending downward in size, there are companies still manufacturing in the Pittsburgh area. This includes smaller scale manufacturers like Leona’s in Wilkinsburg and Knotzland bowtie company in Homewood, the latter of which was founded by Who’s Nexter Nisha Blackwell.

Of the 85,100 manufacturing jobs in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, 66,300 were in durable goods — examples include household appliances, machinery, or sports equipment — 13,100 were in primary metal industries, 7,100 were in iron and steel mills and ferroalloy production, and 23,500 were in non-durable goods — examples include food, condiments, fuel and beer.

Large-scale manufacturers like U.S. Steel are still in the area, albeit with a much-diminished footprint.

According to Pitt’s Innovation Institute, Pittsburgh-based or Pittsburgh-adjacent manufacturers include: CommonWealth Press, a maker of t-shirts; Mancini’s, Cellone’s, and Five Generation Bakers, makers of bread and baked goods; and Aero Tech, a maker of cyclewear.

More broadly, a list provided by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance identifies 43 Pittsburgh-area manufacturers.

They include those making steel and steel products, metal alloys and shape products and components, beverages, glass products, trains and planes, construction and mining products, rail and transit products, cooking and kitchen products and materials, sleep and respiratory devices, titanium products, electrical components, air and water purifiers, nutritional supplements, windows and doors, and food and beverages — the last one denoting Riverbend Foods on the North Side.

It’s your turn. Ask your questions about Pittsburgh and our region here:

Want some more? Explore other Peculiar Pittsburgh stories.

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