It’s not only almonds at the almond conference. Many growers and traders from other industries attend the show to learn about consumption trends – and meet potential clients. Jaswant Bains, owner of Sacramento Packing and Valley View Foods, a prune and walnut grower claims that the California prune industry should do more to promote the health aspects of their products and develop developing markets like India.
Sacramento Packing primarily handles prunes, while Valley View Food brand produces prune juice concentrate. The company also packs in shell and shelled walnuts. Currently Sacramento Packing is installing a new shelling plant which will be operational by January 2018. Axel Breuer talked to Jaswant Bains.
Please tell me how your family became a prune producer in the United States.
My grandfather immigrated to this country in 1924. The whole journey took him four years and he came illegally through Mexico. My father came in 1948 and I came in 1962. So I am the third generation in the company though I was born in India in a family, which has been in the farming business for thou- sands of years. I am Sikh and Sikh first arrived here at the turn-of-the-century. Most of them came through Canada. A lot of them worked on the railroads and the sawmills.
When the people came to California most of them worked as a farm labor. My family started working here in the peach canning business. We grew peaches and sold them to the canneries. In this business we were later replaced by cheap Chinese and Greek imports.
The world market has become more competitive in recent years. How do California Prunes deal with the situation?
Prune production has decreased in the last years – most of the production for world markets has moved to the southern hem- isphere – Chile and Argentina. The prunes are cheaper because labor is less expensive and the prunes are sun-dried. The quality is not the same because all the prunes from California are tunnel-dried, they never touch the ground. The moisture, texture and taste is pretty consistent with 18-21% moisture. The moisture for sun-dried prunes can vary from 14-26%.
Where will the growth in the dried fruit market come from in the future? What are your next target markets?
At the moment I see growth everywhere. I attended the session about India at the almond conference. India is currently the fastest growing economy in the world popu- lated by 1.2 billion. I was surprised by the lit- eracy rate which is expected to rise to 80% in the next 5 to 10 years. The population is very young. I think there are lots of oppor- tunities. I also think there are lots of oppor- tunities all over Asia. As the people enter the middle class the consumption patterns change. Many people know want to cut down on sugar and fat. Prunes and walnuts are perfectly positioned for increased health consciousness. But to be successful in India we have to get the medical communi- ty involved. And in India people do not even know what prunes are. Almonds have been known for centuries, walnuts as well. So we have to communicate to the Indian popula- tion what prunes are. I think it can be done. In the beginning of the 1980’s nobody knew what prunes were in Japan. And at one time the market in Japan was worth 25,000- 30,000 t. I generally see great opportunities in places where people mainly eat rice.
Which are the major issues for prune production for the next years?
Conserving water is a big issue – in Califor
nia and throughout the world. One of ourcustomers is the Nestlé baby food division. We have to comply to very strict guide- lines. We even test the water on a regular basis. We used to detect residues in parts per million, but now we have the technolo- gy to test for parts per billion. The demands for traceability will rise as customer wants to know where his food is coming from. We plainly have to make sure that we address all those requirements and the need for precise information.
For the future I expect a lot of automatiza- tion. The minimum wage in California will go up to US$15 in the next four years. That will force all the companies to innovate. The mowing machines will most probably be robots and the harvesting machines will be self-driving….