Monday, August 10, 2009

Made in India Pickles - a growing presence

The following is an old post. It has been updated but it is still old. A new post on this topic can be found here -- Pickles: Not made in Ontario. In early 2016, I got a call from a budding journalist about this seven-year-old post. In preparing to chat with this young student, I did some more digging. The passing of time has shown the problem is not as simple as India-can-make-it-for-less. This is a bigger story, a better story, and I will have to put together another post to update this. I tried to update the old post but I think it best to leave it as it is. Let's leave a clear "paper" trail.

Let's be clear, this is not a blanket rant against international trade. But, there are products — like pickles — being imported in quantity into Ontario, where the importing seems at the very least unnecessary and at the very worst damaging to Ontario's farm economy.

Pickles are not expensive. How much is saved by buying pickles offshore and in turn closing local processing plants which support local growers and employ Ontario workers?

Over the weekend (written spring 2009) my wife bought a jar of President's Choice pickles from Canada's family-owned grocery store chain: Loblaws. Turning over the jar I was surprised to see that Galen Weston's company had outsourced his store brand of Zesty Garlic pickles to India.

A quick check of the Web revealed that outsourcing pickle production to India is not restricted to Loblaw's house brands. I found a number of examples of pickles from India being marketed in North America. For instance, Steinfeld's Kosher pickles, the label claims 'Quality Since 1922', were being made in India in 2009. (Since writing this piece, this post has been hit by folk all over the world. This is not something that just concerns North Americans.)

I learned from the web that in the American northwest an Oregon pickle processing plant closed, throwing 88 people out of work and hurting the local growers who were suppliers to the plant. The Nalley pickles shamelessly continued to brag they were the "Great Taste of the Northwest" despite having moved production to India.

Update: This weekend, early August 2009, I picked up a jar of Strub's. It was a new kind of Strub's for me, one that I had never encountered before. Intrigued, I picked up the large bottle and turned it in my hand: Made in India.

The outsourcing of our North American pickle production can be traced to the advantages of scale; the Indian plants are huge. Plus, the Indian plants pay only about $80 a ton for their cukes, while in North America Strub's reportedly must pay about $900 for Ontario-grown baby dill-sized pickles. For this reason not even Strub's can resist the pull of outsourcing, although their core product line is still being produced in Brantford, Ontario. [Since writing this, this has changed.]

When I left home decades ago, one of the first products to go into my fridge after beer was a jar of Strub's pickles. Even today when I make a hamburger, it's two strips of thin-sliced Strub's that I lay across the grilled paddy.

Back in the spring, I bragged how Strub Brothers was one of the few companies in Canada still making traditional, barrel-fermented kosher pickles. Their pickled banana peppers were special, relying on hot banana pepper varieties for their heat rather than the simple addition of capsicum to sweet banana pepper varieties.

The southern Ontario producer still had a great product line going back eight decades. Their Full Sour Kosher Dills were first made by Sophie Strub in 1929. These were the pickles you would have found in my fridge back in the '70s. I imagine Sophie Strub would be surprised to see the family name on pickles made in India. On the other hand, I'm sure Sophie understood business and would grasp the pressures bringing Indian pickles to the North America market.

We have lost so many of the canning and processing plants for Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables that it is more than sad; it is frightening. Those plants were once so common throughout southern Ontario. We've lost plants, lost employment, lost farms, lost farmland.

When I first wrote this post, Strubs still supported about 30 Ontario cucumber growers using hundreds of field workers to handpick the cucumbers — Ontario was one of the last handpicked growing regions left in North America. The grading station, located south of Tillsonburg was a source of local employment and the Strub's processing plant in Brantford employed another 120 local workers during peak season.

Yesterday I picked up some Strub's pickles in a local store, they were produced by Whyte Pickles in Quebec.

It is too late for an Ontario peach war (my last can of peaches came from South Africa) or an apple battle (would you believe China) and now the battle for the Ontario pickle seems to have been lost.


A comment drew my attention to the closure of all Bick's production in Canada. Bick's was started in Ontario in the middle of the Second World War. Today, it is owned by the American food giant J. W. Smucker and all production has been moved to the States. I blogged on this loss. See the link.

And today, June 2012, I've learned that Strubs pickles are not made by the Strub clan and haven't been for a few years. The present owners of the Strub brand may be forced to halt production. If the Strub name survives it may end up as part of a Quebec pickle business. Read more here: Pickles not made in Canada.

Clearly, the battle is being lost. Canada is losing jobs everywhere. The folk in Ontario can't even make a pickle. The work is shifting to Quebec or Ohio or even India. Very sad and very frightening.



  1. Wow, thanks for taking the time to write up this level of detail on this issue that's been bugging me for months now. I too was surprised to see no-name pickles MADE IN INDIA. I was @ my sister's house, and was prior to that even more shocked to see a ukranian ethnic-store sourced Ukranian alphabet labelled 1 litre pickel jar with MADE IN INDIA on it as well!!! I concluded to myself, there's no way that true Ukranians in the Ukraine would put up with this ... must be a solely export brand. Regardless, after feeling duped having bought that No-Name brand jar to discover it too was MADE IN INDIA, I wrote a nasty letter to the Loblaw/Weston group: there is no reason to move my pickle sourcing to the furtherest distance possible from me (half-way around the world) - it is clearly done so for solely selfish profit increasing reasons. Consumers have reasons for buying the products they do, and, fattening the middle-man non-contributing-to-the-product entity - is certainly not one of them. Knowing that there are local & NA farmer's lives have been made more difficult through financial hardship of various induced by selfish corporation's number crunchers kinds does not sit lightly with me. We now seem to be taking the Made In China approach with food, where we will be able to buy endless amounts of crap (that we overwhelmingly don't need) at incredibly cheap prices. The problem here is that this devalues what we purchase - when you pay next to nothing for something, you can't possibly value it - you don't care for it, you discard it & you mistreat it, because it is cheap to you & you can always get more for next to nothing. And there is little that's more valuable and necessary to our prosperous existence than food. Bottom line, I refuse to buy pickles from beyond North America or Europe. In fact, I'm going to go off and write to the likes of Bicks, who have not made the move to cost-cutting India. Thanks for the blog!

  2. Was at Food Basic and bought the Selection brand pickes which were a product of INDIA.

    Pickles from these countries are banned as of 2010
    too bad Canada did not do any recall.


    Why cheap out on a pickle Ontario pickles #1.

  3. Good News All, Oct 29, 2010
    The Our Compliments pickles from India packed for Sobey's have all been recalled today. I am trying to find why, but no one is talking to me!! We must capitalize on this and spread it to the news papers and throughout the media to stop any more from coming in and poisoning us. Please help and uncover the truth! Thanks!!

  4. feb 25 2011
    yesterday I was in the No Frills store in Orillia looking for no-name gherkins and baby dills. It has been about 2 months since I last got some. Where all the pickles used to be, the only brand on the shelves was Vlasic. When I asked about the no-name brand the clerk told me they had all been recalled, but she didn't know why. I had no idea these products were being made in India. I am a senior and have to really watch my pennies, but will try to be more vigilant and not buy products from across the wide blue sea. I haven't had tuna for ages because all I can find is product of Thailand, plus the fact that I don't care for tuna packed in water.I much prefer the oil, even though water pack is probably better for my health.

  5. In the fall of 2010 I was disturbed to discover, upon reading the labels that my no name dills, bread and butters and hot dog relish were all made in India. I contacted Loblaws via email and was contacted by telephone to discuss my concern. My opinion was that the product quality was great at a good price but why from India. I said that I could understand an exotic product not grown in Canada, but cucumbers? The Loblaws person suggested choosing another brand and my response was as above: price point and quality. I could choose another brand but price would be higher and flavour/quality might be wanting. Since then, the shelves at my store have been emptied and a recall label affixed to the empty shelf. No explanation available. Was this in response to public pressure to supply an item closer to home or was there a problem with these products. I have always considered myself a careful label reader but usually for nutritional information. Living in Nova Scotia, fish is a staple but when you start looking at origin of product, you might find it difficult to buy national let alone local.

  6. My experience is very similar to yours. I bought a big jar of B&G Kosher Dills at Sam's Club (as I've done so many times before). Wow. So soggy you could cut them with a spoon and VILE tasting. I thought maybe they were super old, but they weren't. They were a " product of India"! They had streaks of yellow and orange in them too. My stomach was actually upset that night. I complained to the company. They said they built a state of the art facility in India and did excellent quality control. I told them: "hello Vlasic!" I got some coupons by way of getting my money back, but what's the use. I bought some sliced jalapenos that were not made in India. I rather never eat another pickle in life that have a garbage pickle from India. Absolutely shameful situation.

  7. In Saskatoon the Federated Cooperative brand pickles were made in India which was a great surprise to me and I am sure others who read the label on the jar. I bought Bicks at a $1 more per jar!

    1. Smuckers, the parent company of Bicks closed down their Canadian operations (Bicks) and moved it to the States. Another Great Canadian brand down the drain.

  8. I have not bought pickles for a few years and did not know about the outsourcing of the pickle market to India until today. I rushed into the supermarket today to pick up a few things including dill pickles and was met with the Indian scenario. I had no idea that this had happened. I finally settled on some Vlasic Kosher pickles that are at least made on the North American continent! As for Canadian made there were none!

    1. You can buy Lakeside pickles and there other products at Soby's in Ontario. Lakeside Pickles are made and grown in Harrow, Ontario and they have a variety of products all made in Harrow. Look them up on the internet.

    2. will be looking lakeside pickles @telling my friends to do the same

    3. I will never eat another pickle that hasn't been grown and processed in North America. I am beginning to think that Ontario has lost the capability to process any thing. Another sore point pertains to Heinz ketchup - can anyone tell me where it is produced. You sure can't tell by reading the label.

  9. I guess I'm not eating pickles anymore. The jar of Bicks I have says prepared in Canada but no where does it say where the produce is from.

  10. Happy Easter and weekend to all. Now I assumed too that I had a hell of a deal from food basics and bought a whole case (12) jars of their brand pickles and I too read the label "Product of India"...NOW YOU'VE GOT MY ATTENTION. Tommorrow I'm off to the one day shopping sale March 7th and you can bet I'm taking the whole case of pickles back.

    Thank you for the heads up.

  11. It's our perverted mentality that spurs us to buy cheap crap ( food and household goods) and think that we are being frugal......STOP THE CYCLE AND READ THE LABELS AND DON'T GIVE IN. The reality is the loss of : farmland, thousands of manufacturing jobs, and the peace of mind that we have difficulty finding untainted food. Talk to your store managers and phone head offices (good luck with that one). I was talking to an older friend and she told me to go back to the farm stands, but the local cukes and make my own pickles. Makes sense to me.....
    Keep the faith and protest.....protest......protest !!!!

  12. I have always enjoyed making my own pickles because I know where my produce comes from and what ingredients are in each jar. It only makes sense!!

    1. ANyone like to share a good garlic pickle recipe? :)

  13. As someone who works as part the food industry, this being the transportation of fresh vegetables, baked goods, frozen fish, candy and canned goods for over 20 years. I have watched many industrial plants and factories disappear from the united states and canada, In favor of facilities overseas with poor working conditions, non existant quality control, sanitation, environmental standards and low wages. Indian pickles and canned vegetables. Chinese frozen fish, cooked apples, so called fresh apples and apple juice.
    Mexican lettuce, cucumbers, celantro, onions, broccoli. All grown with irrigation water drawn from the canals that the local cities and villages dump their sewage. I delivered baby cukes grown in northern Florida to Bicks in Dunnville Ontario, sadly those days are gone. Walmart loves to sell foreign products, when Sam Walton was alive he prided himself selling American and Canadian made products, now he spins at 1700 rpm in his grave.
    The future is staring us in the face, the standard of living will soon fall to levels of those countries whom we compete, unless your wealthy or upper middle class. We all heal to the trend of green centered environmental lifestyles, yet the countries we do a majority of our business and trade give it lip service, survival & prosperity are their focus. Our standards are a lot higher and environmental responsible without all the extra green measures. We ether buy dirty from overseas and ship it here or make it here and we prosper and enjoy the quality and jobs that come from the fruits of "our" labors. Buy Canadian & American!

  14. Thank you for your writing. I have always been very concerned about where and how our foods are made and coming from. I am a citizen of old school manufacturer and local business. I am worried for our economy. I opened my fridge and noticed my hubby bought Strubb's pickles made in Canada and the strubb's slices pickles from India in big letters. Gee what is going on? I shared a post about this and shared your blog. I grew up in Dundas and sorry this happens but Im sure the family who owns it is doing better than any of us. Probably millionaires. We need to let our government know we don't agree. I will continue to read labels and question why not everything is posted product of...not imported by...

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