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CanGro announces closure of fruit canning plant


April 21, 2008
By The Canadian Press

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April 21, 2008 , St. Davids, Ont.
– Attempts to save the Niagara region's last
fruit-canning plant had already failed as peach grower Ken Andres
started the grim job of ripping out a large chunk of his orchard near
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

April 21, 2008 , St. Davids, Ont. – Attempts to save the Niagara region's last fruit-canning plant had already failed as peach grower Ken Andres started the grim job of ripping out a large chunk of his orchard near Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Andres began using a bulldozer to clear about 10 hectares of clingstone peach trees Friday morning (April 18) at the same time management at CanGro Foods Inc. in St. Davids told employees the plant will shut down June 27.

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With the deal unravelling to find a new buyer for the processing plant, Andres and about 150 growers across Niagara and further afield have no buyer for their crops.

“It's not a good day on the farm. Two hundred tonnes of my peaches don't have a home,” Andres said.

Workers at CanGro were called into a meeting at about 9:30 a.m. (April 18) and told by management that talks with two potential buyers had fallen through.

“It's the end of a very, very long era. We've had many canning plants over the years, and this is the last one to close,” Mayor Gary Burroughs said.

“It's a way of life for many of our residents, and they go back generations.''

The closure will put approximately 150 employees at the 112-year-old operation out of work.

The closure will also mark the end of the fruit-canning industry, which once thrived in Niagara. CanGro is said to be the last cannery remaining east of British Columbia.

CanGro announced plans in January to sell or close its plant in St. Davids, as well as a vegetable-processing plant in Exeter.

A previous March 31 shut-down date for the St. Davids operation was set aside as politicians and members of the tender-fruit industry pushed to save the plant.

Two unnamed potential investors came forward with independent proposals to buy the cannery.

Both plans would have required financial support from the provincial and federal governments.

Officials at Queen's Park and Ottawa had been holding discussions with the bidders over the past several weeks until talks fell apart over the past few days.

Burroughs, who helped spearhead the negotiations, said a short deadline to work out a deal pushed the main investor away.

“I thought up until a couple days ago it was a go and then it just didn't work,” he said.

But Len Troup, chairman of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers Marketing Board, argued the provincial and federal governments didn't do enough to save the plant.

Troup wouldn't discuss specifics of the two purchase proposals, but said both would have required the governments to operate “outside of their normal policy framework,” along with offering a financial commitment.

The closure of the St. Davids cannery will force growers to remove around 900 hectares of peach and pear trees – primarily in Niagara.

“The cost of removing and replacing those orchards is at least $30 million, not including loss of income during that time,” he said.

Despite criticism from growers, Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor placed the blame for that squarely at the feet of CanGro's corporate decision-makers.

Management at CanGro in St. Davids declined comment.