AIKEN, S.C. — An increasingly consolidated and competitive baking industry has prompted Norwalk, Conn.-based Pepperidge Farm Inc. to close its baking facility in Aiken.

The nearly 40-year-old plant will be closed in phases, starting in September with complete closure expected by March 2014.

“The bakery industry in the United States is becoming increasingly consolidated and competitive,” said Bill Livingstone, senior vice-president of supply chain and operations. “In order to continue to grow and flourish, Pepperidge Farm needs to be innovative and agile, with the most cost-effective manufacturing facilities.

“We recently reviewed our operations and identified excess capacity in our bakery network. As a result, we evaluated a number of different options to address this. We made the difficult decision to close our plant in Aiken. It is a very good bakery with great people, but it has limited production capabilities, and we’ve recently discontinued a product that accounted for a significant amount of its volume.”

The discontinued product was Goldfish bread, which was introduced in the summer of 2011.

Other products made at the bakery include Pepperidge Farm Italian, Farmhouse, Rye and Deli Flats bread. The majority of bread production is expected to be shifted from Aiken to Pepperidge’s plant in Lakeland, Fla., the company said.

In addition to Lakeland and Aiken, Pepperidge operates bread and cake plants in Bloomfield, Conn.; Downers Grove, Ill.; East Brunswick, N.J., Denver, Pa.; and Downingtown, Pa. The company also has biscuit and cracker plants in Willard, Ohio; Denver, Pa.; and Richmond, Utah; and frozen dough plants in Downingtown, Pa., and Richmond, Utah.

The announcement of the bread plant closing came a week after Pepperidge Farm broke ground on a $93 million expansion of its biscuit and cracker facility in Willard. As part of that two-year expansion project, Pepperidge will add a new Goldfish cracker production line and 227,000 square feet of space.