Seneca to end seasonal canning in Rochester
After almost 90 years of years of canning in Rochester, Seneca Foods Corp. is ending its seasonal production, though its frozen business will remain.
That means the canning operation, which primarily produces cream corn, will end production at the end of this season. About 60 employees work full time for that part of Seneca’s Rochester facility.
Tim Benjamin, chief financial officer for the Marion, N.Y.-based food processor, confirmed that employees were told about the change last week.
"We will cease seasonal production in Rochester, after this pack season, by the end of this year," he said. "However, the Rochester frozen distribution center, which has approximately 180 people connected to that, will stay ongoing."
Seneca is known to have employed hundred of seasonal workers, many often migrants, for the "corn pack" and "pea pack" every year.
Rochester’s seasonal canning production will be shifted to other Seneca plants in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Why end the canning business, which has been a tradition in Rochester since 1929?
"Basically, there has been a steady decline in consumption of canned vegetables. We need to keep plants running at full capacity … that wasn’t happening in Rochester," he said. "We needed to consolidate with other facilities."
The Rochester facilities handles canning mainly for corn and peas. The frozen production handles a variety of vegetables including mixed vegetables, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, black-eye peas and more.
Most of the products are sold under the Libby brand, though many are sold as house brands under the names of various grocery chains.
The tradition of vegetable canning in Rochester dates back to Reid-Murdoch and Co. who first started it in 1929. Libby, McNeil and Libby Inc. acquired the operation in 1948. Seneca purchased the Rochester facilities in 1982.
The Rochester vegetable operations are best known for their connection to the famous ear of corn water tower landmark dating back to the Libby time period.
Seneca has two sprawling, often expanded complexes in Rochester at 1217 Third Ave. SE and 330 20th St. SE plus about 12 acres of open land. Olmsted County estimated the total market value for Seneca’s Rochester buildings and land at about $8.38 million for 2017-2018.
While the warehouses and processing facilities used for the frozen foods will remain in use, what is the plan for the canning operations as well as the beloved corn water tower.
"We’re currently evaluating what will happen with the facilities. No final decision have been made yet," Benjamin said.