Truitt Brothers drops bean line
Company will try to find alternate buyers for existing crop
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
SALEM, Ore. -- The Truitt Brothers food processing company will stop canning green bush beans because the product is no longer profitable.
The company had no choice financially but to end the product line, said Peter Truitt, president of the Salem, Ore., company.
"It's a really heartbreaking crossroads for us," said Truitt. "We've stayed with it probably longer than we should have."
Green beans were the crop that Truitt and his brother, David, "cut our teeth on" when they founded the company nearly four decades ago, but the company has since diversified into other products, he said.
Canned green beans represented roughly $15 million to $20 million of the company's $140 million in annual revenues, Truitt said.
The company typically contracted with up to 30 farmers in Oregon, primarily in the Willamette Valley, to grow green beans on about 3,000 acres, he said.
Four growers have already planted roughly 500 acres of the crop this year, for which Truitt Bros. will try to find another buyer, he said.
If that's not possible, the company will pay those farmers a "bypass fee," or a payment for growing a crop that cannot be harvested due to timing issues or other problems, Truitt said.
"The best solution is for us to find a home for the beans," he said. Truitt doesn't have contractual obligations related to beans that haven't actually been planted.
The company contracts with other food companies to pack products, manufactures food pouches and canned kidney beans, pinto beans and pumpkin, some of which will continue to be processed at its facility on Front Street in Salem.
The discontinuation of the green bean line is expected to result in the loss of nearly 140 jobs, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notice the company filed with the state of Oregon.
Truitt said canned green beans have lost popularity among consumers since the early 1970s when the company started. The high minimum wage and the cost of cans also contributed to the product's lack of profitability, he said.
"If you look at overall trends in vegetables, canned has been decreasing historically," said Jim Myers, a vegetable breeder at Oregon State University who has worked on green beans.
Oregon's green bean acreage peaked at roughly 25,000 acres around the start of the 21st Century, but has more recently averaged 18,000-19,000 acres a year, he said.
The NORPAC Foods farmers cooperative, based in Stayton, Ore., continues to can and freeze the vegetable, while the National Frozen Foods Corp. of Albany, Ore., sells frozen beans, Myers said.
Production of bush beans for canning is less expensive in Wisconsin and Minnesota because most farmers there can rely on rain for their crop, while Oregon growers must irrigate, he said.
"They don't have the overhead costs associated with irrigating green bean normally," Myers said.
Jordan Truitt, Peter Truitt's son and a custom green bean harvester, said he hopes to find a contract with another food company to harvest green beans or possibly another crop.
Otherwise, he may have to sell his company's harvesting machinery, he said. "Now that they're not processing the beans, we have five harvesters with no beans to harvest."