Bick’s moves its pickles to the U.S.

Can the Canadian cucumber survive without them?


 
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Left with a sour taste

Photograph by Reena Newman

When you trawl the pickle aisle of a Canadian grocery store you’re almost certain to see shelves of Bick’s products and that iconic red-and-green logo. It’s the country’s dominant producer of pickles. At least it used to be. After more than 60 years of processing cucumbers, onions, peppers and beets in Canada, Bick’s has closed its plants in Dunnville and Delhi, Ont., and moved its operations to Wisconsin.

The move has left the Canadian pickle industry adrift, with farmers fretting—worried not just about falling cucumber prices and disappearing markets, but the very fate of the Canadian-made pickle. Marshall Schuyler once grew 600 tonnes of cucumbers for Bick’s per year but has gradually been cutting back in favour of more profitable crops like soybeans and corn. This year, for the first time in 20 years, he won’t be planting any. “The future success of Canadian cucumbers—and many of our processed vegetables—depends on the consumers’ willingness to pay for food safety,” he says, referring to the rise of cheaper foreign imports that picklers like Bick’s are turning to.

While fresh produce has benefited from the buy-local movement, the same can’t be said for canned or jarred goods. “Canadians just want to buy the cheapest product they can,” says John Lutigheid, a former cucumber grower for Bick’s in Chatham, Ont. “They don’t care where their pickles are made. The buy-local movement has been all about buying fresh, which only applies for a few months of the year.”

Bick’s pickles was the quintessential Canadian immigrant success story. After a bumper crop in 1944, German-born George Bick and his son Walter began selling barrels of cucumbers to Toronto restaurants from his Scarborough farm. Within two decades the company was churning out 36 million jars of pickles a year. In 1962, the brand was sold to Robin Hood Flour and then in 2004 to the U.S. company J.M. Smucker’s. Maribeth Burns Badertscher, a spokesperson for the company, cites the need for “greater manufacturing and sourcing flexibility” for the move to Wisconsin, which was completed late last year (resulting in the loss of 150 factory jobs and over 1,000 seasonal farm jobs). “We know Canadian growers can be part of our future supply chain,” she adds.

But Ontario farmers aren’t convinced Smucker’s will continue to pay a premium for Canadian cucumbers now that it’s left the country. Ontario is noted for its high quality but labour intensive cukes, says Mark Wales, a farmer and president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Typically, the vegetable is harvested not by migrant workers but by sharecropping, where a farmer splits the payment for harvests with local pickers. “We have lost over a thousand of these seasonal jobs on top of all the manufacturing jobs,” says Wales.

John Mumford, the director of the Ontario Processed Vegetable Growers, points to “the double whammy of a high dollar and rising labour costs” to account for the Bick’s closure. But he notes that there are still opportunities—many farmers who lost the Bick’s contract are selling to large distributors, such as the U.S. company Hartung Brothers, which supplies the processed food industry. “While I hate to lose an iconic Canadian company like Bick’s, we still have a huge export market,” he says. Ontario cucumbers are likely still ending up in Bick’s pickle jars (after being bought and sold by firms like Hartung’s).

Still, farmers like Schuyler see only rising pressure brought by cheaper Indian or Sri Lankan pickles. He argues that more flexible and clearer labelling regulations would allow pickle manufacturers to specify a high Canadian produce content and might help consumers make more informed choices at the grocery store. But for the time being, at least, when you bite into a Bick’s, there’s a pretty good chance that it won’t be a Canadian pickle.


 

Bick’s moves its pickles to the U.S.

  1. “Canadians just want to buy the cheapest product they can,”  – sad but true.

    Guess Bick’s gets put on my ‘do not buy’ list just like Hersheys and many others.

    Please get with the clearer labelling so consumers can be informed.

  2. I just make my own anyway, using cucumbers grown in my garden.  It isn’t rocket science, and they’re better than most store-bought products.

  3. I’ll never buy Bicks from the US.  They want Canadian business, they could have stayed in Canada.

  4. The entire article smacks of being sympathetic to the people that have an axe to grind. If the growers want a protected market, perhaps they should purchase the idle manufacturing plants. The seasonal workers should be alright because the Smucker’s spokesperson said that “Canadian growers can be part of our future supply chain.”
    The Ontario cucumber growers should be able to sell their product to a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin much the same as a Saskatchewan farmer should be able to sell wheat, durum etc. to a plant in Montana or North Dakota. Just thinkin out loud here………

    • Sorry…if you’re going to present yourself as an iconic Canadian brand, don’t fire your Canadian workers and move the company South. 

    • Sorry, fresh cucumbers do not have the same “shelf” life that grains have.  They need to be processed in about 24 hours to maintain maximum quality.

  5. when is about food i usually buy things that are good for my mouth not by the brand, regardless the price

  6. Buy Strubbs pickles (if you can find them). In my family’s opinion they are much better than Bick’s and they are Canadian!

  7. No more Bick’s for me.  They used to be great but not lately.  Quality did not seem as good.

  8. I wonder if bicks will now contain that pink slime?

  9. I sent this to Smuckers Foods of Canada Corp. via their “Contact Us” link on their website:

    Is it true that this “Made in the USA” means that the cucumbers are actually grown in India, but packaged in the USA? And, what is that all about? Even if the pickles are grown in the US, what is Bick’s Canada (brand) doing importing pickles from the USA? The origin of the Bick’s brand is Canadian – and that is the basis of your established consumer loyalty here – now being eroded. I have received several social-media messages regarding this. Trust me, we are sending our concerns to one another and it gets passed on to friends of friends of friends; that is how I learned about this and why I started to investigate. Surely, we have enough growers you can support here in Canada, and whom follow healthful growing conditions.

  10. Looking for a distributor for sweet mixed pickles in AZ

  11. I will never buy anything BUT Bick’s!!!! You get what you pay for!! Bick’s is the best as far as I’m concerned!!

  12. Bick’s pickles, especially pickled beets, were a far superior product when produced in Canada. I had some tonight and found them just horrible. Will never buy another Bick’s product again!

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