Cannery Life, Del Monte in the Santa Clara Valley

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Mission brand yellow cling peaches label

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California Fruit Canners Assn.

California Fruit Canners Association, c. 1915.In the canning industry’s infancy, individual orchardists sold their products to small, independent canneries.  But as the industry grew, the relationship between growers and canners became increasingly strained, especially over the issue of price.  Neither the farmer nor the canner could afford to hold out for the best price when the harvest came in.  The product had to be sold quickly before it went bad.  No one would make any money if the fruit was left to rot.

Gardenia Brand Label, c. 1910.The solution to the problem, for both sides, was cooperatives and mergers.  Large canning operations could control more of the market and could thus demand a lower price for products.  Growers’ cooperatives likewise could control market share, with all members pledging not to sell their produce below the price set by the group.  

In 1899, the California Fruit Canners Association was founded.  The organization could set purchase prices for crops that challenged those set by growers’ cooperatives.  If the Association’s canners would not buy a product, the growers were forced to lower their price or lose the deal completely.  Within a few decades, however, the canning companies would start to control the entire production process from seed to consumer.

Del Monte Tomato label, c. 1915.The CFCA’s founding group included the San Jose Fruit Packing Company, along with seventeen other companies – about half of the canning establishments in California.  The CFCA operated 28 fruit and vegetable canneries throughout the state, and acquired operations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Hawaii.  Within four years, the Association was the world’s leader in fruit and vegetable canning and drying.   But by 1916, the CFCA itself became part of yet another merger of canneries, packing houses and growers: the California Packing Corporation