Jif plant in Lexington might expand

The parent company of Jif peanut butter is considering a major expansion of the Lexington plant on Winchester Road that produces the famed grocery staple.

The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority on Thursday preliminarily approved $2 million in state tax incentives to persuade The J.M. Smucker Co. to expand the plant here rather than look elsewhere.

State documents suggest the company is also considering expanding a Pennsylvania plant or developing a site in Tennessee.

Company spokeswoman Maribeth Badertscher said in a statement that the company "is still making a decision on where to locate the project with that final decision to be confirmed later in February."

State officials called the incentives a positive step.

"The company, whose products are known and loved in homes across North America, is a significant part of Kentucky's vast food industry," said Mandy Lambert, spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Economic Development. "We look forward to working with them as they consider making this reinvestment in Kentucky."

The company is considering a $43.7 million investment in the Lexington plant with the bulk of that — $26.2 million — earmarked for equipment and related costs, according to state documents. The upgraded machinery and equipment would be used for expanded product lines to meet increased demand.

The state program under which the tax incentives were given preliminary approval does not require job creation. However, it does require that Smucker's retain at least 90 percent of the 279 full-time jobs at the location. The jobs pay an average hourly wage of $24.25, excluding benefits, according to state documents.

Smucker's bought Jif and Crisco from Procter & Gamble in 2002. The Jif brand traces to 1946, when it was founded as Big Top peanut butter and manufactured by Lexington businessman W.T. Young. In 1955, Young sold the business to P&G, which turned it into Jif.