Processing tomato export numbers debated

Where are all the tomatoes going?

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The processing tomato market was upended in 2013 when Heinz, the province’s largest processor left. The health of the sector since is being hotly debated.

Hardeman recently tweeted a graph that showed a large decline in processing tomato exports from Ontario.

In 2008, Ontario exported $75 million worth of processed tomato products (juice, paste and products including ketchup) and imported $149 million worth of product. In 2018, exports had dropped to $25 million, but imports had increased to $253 million, according to Hardeman’s numbers attributed to OMAFRA’s International Trade Database.

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When Heinz closed, it caused a drop in the production volume the following year. In the years since, however, tomatoes contracted have increased to where they are close to the volume produced when Heinz closed. Harvested volume in 2012, the year before Heinz closed, was 550,000 tonnes, compared to a harvest volume of 500,000 tonnes in 2018. With the exception of green peas, other processing vegetable volumes remain healthy.

Where are all those tomatoes going if they are not being exported?

Locally produced tomato products have gained market share, especially in ketchup and that’s the largest volume of imported product, mostly through Heinz. French’s ketchup has about doubled its market share.

According to a recent CBC news article, Heinz still holds 77 per cent of the ketchup market, but that’s dropped 6.2 per cent since 2015.

There are 16 processors in Ontario. Lennon points out that Highbury Canco took over the Heinz plant and has invested in that plant to grow its business. Bonduelle has committed to invest $79 million in its Ontario plants and Mrs. Whyte’s, a Quebec company, is building a cucumber processing plant in Wallaceburg.

She says she doesn’t see the decline and risk to the future of processing vegetables that the province is communicating.

In fact, the OPVG has global trade figures from other sources that say that Canada has a positive trade balance in processed tomato products with the United States.

About the author

Editor

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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