Shippers react to closure of Oceanside Pole Tomato - The Packer

Shippers react to closure of Oceanside Pole Tomato

05/20/2011 12:14:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

California tomato grower-shippers were ruing the April closure of Oceanside Pole Tomato Sales Inc. and its growing operation, Harry Singh & Sons, Oceanside, Calif., but it was unclear what effect the shutdown would have on the state’s tomato deal this summer.

“I think that there will be some reverberations because of it,” said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. “They were a significant part of the category.”

The shuttering will “leave some holes and opportunities” for other companies to come in and pick up the business, he said.

Jack Corrigan, sales manager for Red Rooster Sales, Firebaugh, Calif., was not sure how much of an effect the shutdown will have on individual shippers, but he said it will make a difference in the industry’s overall picture because of the large volume that will be off the market.

Oceanside Pole shipped about 4.5 million cartons annually.

“We’ll all have a better opportunity to market our product,” Corrigan said.

It will take awhile for other growers to fill the void with new plantings, he said

Tim Biggar, salesman for Tom Lange Co. Inc.’s Escondido, Calif., location.

“It’s an adjustment that may not be able to take place this season,” he said.

“There’s really nowhere to plant a lot more vine-ripes anymore,” added David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif. “If you’re going to make up the difference, you’re probably going to have to make it up with mature-greens in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Since Oceanside Pole shipped during the back half of the season, there’s a possibility some growers may plant some additional acreage this year, Biggar said, but he said water issues, labor availability and transportation costs in Central California could make increasing acreage a challenge.

However, Cook did not anticipate a tomato shortfall.

“It’s really hard for me to foresee a giant shortage,” he said.

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

Although the company said in an e-mail to its employees that it would not be in operation for the 2011 season, the company indicated that it would “work diligently and explore all options in our efforts to reorganize and resume farming operations for 2012.”

The closure will cost 85 year-round employees their jobs, including president Bill Wilbur, director of sales R.J. Deakins and salesman Dino Iacovimo. It also will eliminate about 900 seasonal field and packinghouse positions.

The company, a fixture in the region for more than 70 years, shipped under the Oceanside Pole and Cal-Tom labels.

Grower-shippers lauded the efforts of Harry Singh & Sons and Oceanside Pole.

“They are absolutely fantastic growers. They have a very strong reputation for quality and consistency,” Munger said. “Our company has always had tremendous respect for Oceanside Pole — for their people and their operation.”

The company was a supply source for many receivers, Biggar said, “and they did a fine job of packing and shipping.”



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