A publicly-traded food company has bought half of Truitt Bros. with the option of eventually acquiring the rest of the Oregon-based processor.
Seneca Foods purchased the shares of co-founder Peter Truitt for an undisclosed sum, marking the New York-based company’s latest expansion.
Last year, the firm agreed to buy the assets of Allens, Inc., a bankrupt Arkansas vegetable processor, for $148 million.
It also took over the Independent Foods fruit cannery in Washington in a deal valued at roughly $25 million.
The share sale to Seneca Foods represents the final separation of Peter Truitt from the company he founded with his brother David more than four decades ago.
“We reached a time in life we needed to go in different directions,” said Peter, who now runs Truitt Family Foods, a spinoff of the original firm.
David Truitt said that he has negotiated the sale of the rest of Truitt Bros., but the transaction likely won’t be finalized for several years.
“They expect us to run it independently but with their participation,” he said.
In 2012, Truitt Bros. ceased its traditional business of canning crops like green beans and pears at its facilities in Salem, Ore., citing a lack of profitability and other industry consolidation.
Peter Truitt then directed his attention to canning dry beans that are sold as a branded product, while David Truitt focused on contract manufacturing of prepared meals, sauces and other foods.
“We realized we really had two different businesses,” David said.
While the company once contracted directly with farmers, it now sources its ingredients from other processors, he said.
The company works with customers to develop new products in its food laboratory and then figures out how to adapt the process to its manufacturing.
Peter Truitt, meanwhile, is optimistic about the prospects for canned beans, which he buys from Northwest farmers.
For some crops, consumer tastes have shifted toward fresh and frozen products, he said. “A 30-year-old will not go to the grocery store and buy a can of green beans.”
Dry beans have managed to escape that fate and continue to be popular in canned form, partly due to a “health halo” around the crop, Peter said.
Canned beans are also much more convenient for consumers, who would otherwise need to soak them overnight prior to cooking, he said.
The cannery in Salem is well-placed because the West has a high per capita consumption of beans but most processors are on the East Coast or Midwest, Peter said.
He’s also optimistic about the company’s new line of hummus, a Mediterranean dip produced from chickpeas that is increasingly popular in the U.S.
“People in the shelf-stable world have adapted to the priorities of today’s consumers,” he said.