Oregon canner moving operation to Yakima facility
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Truitt Brothers of Salem is moving its canned pear operations to Del Monte Foods' cannery in Yakima, Wash.
Peter Truitt, the company's founder and CEO, said the move will help the canner compete in an industry that has contracted dramatically the last decade.
"It is a significant strategic move that puts us in a position to be a leader in the canned pear business," Truitt said.
The Salem plant will eliminate 250 temporary positions and some mechanic positions, Truitt said.
"There is no disguising the fact that some people are going to lose their jobs," Truitt said. "That is disappointing. But from my point of view, this is a significant strategic change for Truitt Brothers that keeps us more than ever in the canning business and puts us in a position to be healthier than we were slated to be."
The move, which still needs approval from Del Monte's senior management and board of directors, brings the canner closer to its primary supply of pears, Truitt said.
About 60 percent of the pears Truitt cans are grown in the Yakima area, Truitt said.
The move also combines the purchasing power of the two canners, Truitt said, and brings production up to capacity at the Yakima plant.
"We'll send a syrup-seamer-combo machine and a big tank to hold juice up there," said Sue Root, operations manager at Truitt Brothers. "Other than that, we can drop our pears into their plant, and they have the capacity to can them.
"That says a lot about how underutilized all the pear plants are in the Northwest," Root said.
Truitt Brothers canned about 22,000 tons of pears last year at its Salem plant, a 27 percent drop from the 30,000 tons the canner packed a decade ago.
Regionwide, canned pear production has fallen from 200,000 tons a decade ago to around 120,000 tons today -- a 40 percent drop.
Chinese imports of canned pears have consumed about 10 percent of the market in recent years, Truitt said. Fresh pear sales have eaten into the canned pear business.
"Pears are available fresh in the supermarket now year-round," Truitt said.
Truitt said the company could not have continued on its current course.
"If we elected not to do something significant with our canning business, the pear canning business here in Salem would ultimately be liquidated," Truitt said.
Del Monte also will can cherries for Truitt Brothers under the agreement. Truitt canned about 400 tons of sweet cherries last year, Truitt said.
Truitt Brothers will continue to can green beans at its Salem plant, along with garbanzo, kidney, black and pinto beans, which it sources from Washington growers.
The canner contracted for about 3,000 acres of green beans last year, Truitt said.
Truitt said the company is well positioned for the future, but has suffered during the recession.
"This year will not be a good year for our company, and there is no sugarcoating that," Truitt said. "Are we in a strong financial position? Yes. But we would not be able to withstand years like this for the next five years."