Fruit and Vegetable Industry

This important sector of Canada's FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRIES is made up of companies that process fruits and VEGETABLES. Their primary products are canned, frozen or otherwise preserved fruits and vegetables, vegetable and fruit juices, soups, pickles, jams, jellies and marmalades, cider, sauces and vinegar. The industry employs around 20 000 permanent workers; during the harvesting and processing seasons temporary help expands the work force considerably. Canadian fruit and vegetable processing companies sell more than $6.5 billion worth of products annually; of that, more than 30% is exported.

The industry began in the late 1880s when George Dunning established the country's first fruit and vegetable canning factory in Prince Edward County, southeastern Ontario. By 1900, eight canning plants were in production in the county, half of the total in Canada at the time. During the early 1900s, the industry became firmly established in all the major fruit- and vegetable-growing regions of Canada. There are currently over 500 fruit and vegetable preserving, specialty food manufacturing and frozen food manufacturing establishments in Canada (about 210 in Ontario, 130 in Québec, 70 in British Columbia, and 40 in Alberta).

Prior to the mid-1940s, the primary food-preservation techniques were drying, pickling and high-temperature canning. The last procedure, by far the most important, involves filling metal or glass containers with a partially cooked product, then sealing the container and heating it to high temperature for varying lengths of time. This method completely sterilizes the contents and permits storage at room temperatures for long periods. The first Canadian frozen fruit and vegetable operation was established by William H. Heeney. In 1932 his company, Heeney Frosted Foods Ltd of Ottawa and Montréal, produced the country's first commercial frozen food, a strawberry pack. From a slow beginning the market for frozen fruit and vegetable products has grown significantly. There are now over 220 Canadian establishments that manufacture frozen food, including fruit and vegetable products.

The industry is subject to many federal, provincial and municipal regulations, but the primary governing body is Agriculture Canada (see FOOD LEGISLATION). All Canadian fruit and vegetable processors are federally licensed and must conform to regulations enforced by inspectors from Agriculture Canada's fruit and vegetable inspection branch. It is mandatory for food plants shipping products across provincial or international borders to be federally inspected.

Unlike the processing industries of some other countries, the Canadian industry does not own an extensive amount of land for agricultural production. It does, however, exert considerable control over what crop varieties are grown. In most cases, Canadian farmers contract to grow certain crops for a specific processor or group of processors. Most vegetables destined for canning or freezing are picked by mechanical harvesters, usually owned by the processing companies. Increasingly, fruit crops (eg, Ontario's GRAPE crop) are being harvested mechanically, also with harvesters owned by processing companies. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are graded to meet federal government regulations as follows: fancy (top quality), choice (good quality) and standard (bottom quality). Most Canadian canned and frozen fruit and vegetables are of "fancy" or "choice" quality. The processing sector is represented by two Ottawa-based national associations and their provincial counterparts: the Canadian Food Processors' Association and the Canadian Frozen Food Association.