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.