Agriculture

Gallo will expand into vacant Seneca fruit cannery in Modesto

Seneca on Finch Road in Modesto, Calif. is pictured on Monday October 29, 2018. E.&J. Gallo Winery has purchased part of the vacant fruit cannery for wine production purposes.
Seneca on Finch Road in Modesto, Calif. is pictured on Monday October 29, 2018. E.&J. Gallo Winery has purchased part of the vacant fruit cannery for wine production purposes. jlee@modbee.com

The vacant Seneca Foods fruit cannery in Modesto will shift to wine following its sale to two companies founded by the Gallo family.

E.&J. Gallo Winery bought 47 of the 115 acres at the plant, across from Modesto Airport in the Beard Industrial District. The company said Monday that it is still studying exactly how to use the Finch Road property for expanded wine operations. They already employ about 3,500 people in Modesto and about 3,000 more elsewhere.

The other 68 acres are mostly warehouses acquired by G3 Enterprises. It was founded by third-generation family members to provide labels, closures, trucking and other goods and services to the beverage industry.

The purchase prices were not disclosed.

The Seneca plant was one of the last vestiges of a fruit canning industry that had employed tens of thousands of people in California. The plant produced peaches, apricots, pears and fruit cocktail through the 2017 growing season.

The cannery had 265 year-round employees when the closure was announced in February by Seneca, based in Marion, N.Y. The workforce typically topped 2,000 during the harvest from summer to early fall.

The cannery originally was part of Tri-Valley Growers, which at its 1980s peak employed about 11,000 people in fruit and tomato canning in California and New Jersey. The grower-owned cooperative filed for bankruptcy in 2000.

Tomato processing has remained strong in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but fruit canning is now reduced to Del Monte Foods, also in the Beard district, and Pacific Coast Producers in Lodi.

Demand for canned fruit has lagged for years, despite the industry’s pitch that these products are nutritious and convenient. Wine is booming with the economy and the growing number of drinkers. Gallo, founded in Modesto in 1933, is the largest player in the business of fermented grape juice.

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The company will use the Seneca site as an alternative to building a 65-acre winery in the Acampo area of San Joaquin County. Those plans had raised concerns from neighbors about traffic, noise, lighting and groundwater, the Lodi News-Sentinel reported last week.

“THANK YOU Gallo for listening to your neighbors and taking to heart the concerns of the community!” said a website post by the Ag Community Alliance. “As we have stated many times, this was not an effort to thwart Gallo of their expansion needs; rather this was an effort to preserve rural character of agricultural community.”

The Beard district is anything but rural. It has about 30 buildings across 2,000 acres, including the main Gallo site, a Frito-Lay snack foods plant, a Nestlé evaporated milk plant and dozens of other businesses.

Gallo also sells wine from coastal regions of California, from Washington state and from five foreign counties. It deals in several types of liquor.

This is not the first move into vacant cannery space for Gallo. It ages brandy in a former Tri-Valley property at 14th and D streets.

G3 is based in Modesto and also operates in Napa and Sonoma counties. In a statement Monday, the company said it will upgrade the Seneca warehouses “to market as readily available space to meet growing demand in the region when little warehouse space is currently available in Northern California.”

It added that the space leases would be “significantly lower” than the Bay Area and help meet the demand from “e-commerce and a strong economy.”

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