Pickles will once again be processed in Ontario.
A large crowd of farmers, politicians, community members and local officials gathered in Wallaceburg on Aug. 23 to hear representatives from Whyte’s Foods Inc. – a large Canadian pickled vegetables company based in Quebec – announce plans to create a new pepper and cucumber processing facility in the area.
The news was greeted with high praise from many farmers, politicians, and community officials, particularly given its stark contrast to what, in recent years, has been generally negative news surrounding Ontario’s food processing capacity.
Why it matters: While not a factor for the 2018 – and possibly 2019 – growing season, the investment by Whyte’s Foods in a new Ontario pickling facility offers a jump in market growth for processing cucumber and pepper farmers. It also marks a positive development in Ontario’s food processing capacity.
“We’ve been producing peppers and tomatoes for [Whyte’s] for over 12 years, and they’ve been wonderful to work with,” says Dave Van Segbrook, a processing vegetable producer from Tupperville.
In his experience, Segbrook says the company and the family behind it have done an excellent job in finding mutually beneficial solutions when it comes to working through unforeseen supply issues, such as those relating to quantity, transportation, and weather. He is also confident that approach will be a boon for other farmers in the region, as well as for those hired to work at the new facility.
In an address during the Aug. 23 press conference, Cathy Lennon, general manager for Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers, says the Ontario processing cucumber industry was comprised of 111 growing over 3000 acres and 40,000 tons of pickling cucumbers across Elgin Kent and Norfolk counties.
“Processing cucumbers represents our second largest vegetable crop behind tomatoes with an annual farm-gate value of approximately $13 million,“ she said.
“Ontario lost significant processing capacity in 2011 and 2012 when two U.S.-owned processors pulled out of the province. But […] the pickling cucumber remains a vital component of a number of vegetable farms here in southwestern Ontario.”
She added the company’s $16.5 million investment – and an anticipated need for 8,000 additional tons of pickling cucumbers annually – offers a notable increase in demand for processing field vegetables.
Lennon also reiterated how the plan to construct the latest Whyte’s Foods pickling facility in Ontario marks a change from the status quo. More specifically, she says many pickled products – such as those under the Bick’s brand – are made using produce exported to facilities in the United States. The finished product is then imported back into Canada for sale.
“To have a Canadian company invest in Canada’s processing capacity, there’s just so much good there,” she said.
The company bought the Strub’s brand, which was once a popular Ontario brand of pickles and relishes processed by the Strub family in Brantford in 2012.
Representatives from Whyte’s Foods say approximately 100 jobs will be generated at what will be a newly converted 150,000 square foot pickling facility. Company representatives cited proximity to the American border, suitable pre-existing infrastructure, as well as regional farm expertise and diversity as reasons for choosing Wallaceburg as the location for their new facility.
In terms of an operations timeline, they say renovations are scheduled to conclude in January of 2019; a full launch of their retail production line in November 2019 is anticipated, with two production lines running year-round.
While this timeline means there is no immediate impact for processing vegetable growers, Lennon says contracts will likely be available in subsequent growing seasons.
Speaking for the municipality, Randy Hope, mayor for Chatham Kent, thanked a diverse array of individuals and organizations for helping make the Whyte’s Foods investment possible; this included the Kent Federation of Agriculture and other farm groups. He also reiterated the importance of ensuring both the provincial and federal government understand the importance and power of Southwestern Ontario’s agriculture industry.