Oceanside's demise shakes up tomato industry

10/10/2011 11:18:00 AM
Fred Wilkinson

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Most grower-shippers in Baja California and Southern California believe the April closure of Oceanside Pole Tomato Sales Inc. and its growing operation, Harry Singh & Sons, Oceanside, will affect the coming tomato deal, but how much of an effect it will have is anybody’s guess.

It’s going to have a profound effect,” said Brian Bernauer, sales director for Fresh Pac International, Oceanside. “I think there’s going to be less California vine-ripes.”

In early August, Bernauer said he saw signs of shortages of vine-ripe tomatoes, but he said that might open the door for romas.

“I would think that if there’s less tomatoes as a whole, the roma (deal), with good supplies, may take up some of that gap,” he said.

Danny Uribe, sales manager for Pinos Produce Inc., San Diego, believes the closure will have some effect because no one has the capacity to pick up Oceanside’s volume in one season.

I’m not sure you’d want to,” he added, with a full economic recovery still a long way off.

Even without Oceanside Pole, the industry “is just barely making it,” he said.

Planting additional vine-ripes to fill the gap would be difficult because there isn’t enough land available, said David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif.
Even if more tomatoes were planted, Cook said he’s not sure how many he could sell.

“It’s a fairly significant change,” said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, San Diego.

Anytime you take that volume out in the short run, it’s going to leave a ripple effect,” he said. “In the long run, the tomato industry will fill in the gaps and holes.”

He was not sure if Andrew & Williamson would end up with more business, but he said the closing presented the firm with an opportunity.

The closing was expected to have an effect on the West Coast, and it has, said Rob Pearson, sales manager for Naples, Fla.-based Gargiulo Inc., which has a tomato deal in Oxnard.

“I think it’s very unfortunate, what happened to Oceanside,” said Casey Houweling, president of Houweling Nurseries Oxnard Inc., Camarillo. “There was room for both us in the market.”

He said the closing will offer growth opportunities.

“From a marketing perspective, there are great opportunities in California at this point,” he said.

Oceanside Pole cited high costs of labor and water, competition from Mexico, California’s tough regulatory environment and the fact that the company had lost its lease on about 350 acres of land from the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton as reasons for its closure.

The company, in business more than 70 years, shipped under the Oceanside Pole and Cal-Tom labels.



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