MODESTO — Thursday morning, I walked past the Modesto Certified Farmers Market and continued up I Street to Save Mart.
I headed for the canned-fruit aisle and picked up some apricots, pears and fruit cocktail. I wanted a fresh taste of these products that long have been part of the food industry around here.
Fresh? From a can? Why not?
Del Monte Foods, which has a cannery on Yosemite Boulevard, has launched a campaign touting the quality of its canned fruits and vegetables.
It notes that the crops are harvested at the peak of ripeness. That's not always the case with, say, peaches or tomatoes bound for produce aisles.
The industry also points to studies showing that canned fruits and vegetables are comparable to fresh produce when it comes to nutrition. And the canned products have long shelf lives and are convenient to use.
"The campaign focuses on why consumers should feel good about using Del Monte fruits, vegetables and tomatoes as a part of their healthy meals and snacks, elevating the brand from merely a convenient and reliable choice to a preferred ingredient that enables them to live a healthy lifestyle," said Brian Ng, a director of marketing at Del Monte, in a news release.
The industry has been trying for years to perk up lagging demand in a society where "fresh is best" has become a mantra.
The average American ate 26 pounds of canned fruit in 1970, but only 14.8 pounds in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fresh went from 100.6 pounds to 127.9 pounds over that time.
Modesto-area workers know this all too well. Fruit canneries were major employers through the 1990s, but they dropped off sharply because of the demand and the 2000 bankruptcy of Tri-Valley Growers.
Modesto still is a center for the much-reduced industry. Del Monte concentrated its peach, pear and apricot canning here. Seneca Foods owns some of the Tri-Valley operation.
And tomato canneries continue to hum in Modesto, Oakdale, Escalon and Los Banos. It doesn't hurt that their products have plenty of demand from lovers of pizza, pasta, salsa and ketchup.
The Canned Food Alliance, which includes steel companies, notes that canned products can help meet the USDA's latest nutrition guidelines. They urge that half of each plate be fruits or vegetables, with the rest split among grains, meat and other protein sources.
Canners also point to the healthier versions of their products, such as low-salt tomatoes and low-sugar pears.
This doesn't mean you should turn up your nose when walking past a farmers market. Its peaches in August are about as good as it gets. And who doesn't like corn grilled on the cob at a summer barbecue? (The stuff from the can tends to fall into the coals.)
We in the Modesto area have the best of both worlds farmers markets and produce stands with lots of great food, plus canneries that employ several thousand people from summer to early fall.
Whichever way we go, we're eating local.
Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352; firstname.lastname@example.org; or (209) 578-2385.