San Benito Foods Gears Up for Another Season

Cannery making final preparations for tomato processing in July in downtown Hollister, a site that has been working for more than 90 years

The smell of processing tomatoes marks the summer season for many Hollister residents as the San Benito Foods Cannery begins packaging its product in early July.

The cannery has existed in the same location in downtown Hollister for more than 90 years, according to San Benito Foods Plant Manager Kent Rounds, outlasting several owners as well as another cannery that used to be across the street. The cannery has been processing tomatoes each year at the site since the 1920s.  

During the peak tomato-processing season, San Benito Foods employs 500 people at the cannery, located at 110 Hawkins St., and an average of 90 employees during the rest of the year.

“Roughly 70 to 80 percent of the employees who work for San Benito Foods live in this area,” Rounds wrote in an emailed statement to BenitoLink. “A number of employees’ parents worked at this cannery.”

“We have a great working relationship with the City of Hollister,” Rounds added, “The mayor and city council have been very supportive of the cannery over the years.”

“We’re happy to have them,” said Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, calling San Benito Foods and the cannery, “part of our history” as well one of the area’s largest employers.

The City of Hollister operates the industrial waste treatment plant that San Benito Foods uses for its waste produced during the summer weeks when it processes tomatoes. In turn, San Benito Foods pays the majority of the cost of operating the plant. Last summer, foul odors from the treatment plants brought complaints from residents, but the city and cannery officials have pledged to work to avoid a repeat of that issue this year.

San Benito Foods produces canned tomato products packaged into No. 10 cans, including whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and paste, catsup, pizza sauce and other fully-prepared pasta sauces. These products are then sold to food service distributors such as US Foods and Sysco, as well a number of regional distributors on the east coast. San Benito Foods also processes custom products for a number of chain restaurants.

The company doesn’t grow its own crop of tomatoes, but purchases its raw ingredients from growers in San Benito County, Santa Clara County and the Central Valley.

“We have an excellent group of local tomato growers who have delivered to this cannery for decades,” Rounds said.

San Benito Foods is now a subsidiary of the Neil Jones Food Company. During the 1960s and early 70s, the cannery was owned and operated by Contadina/Carnations Foods. San Benito Foods took over operations shortly after this period and continues to grow its business.

A Tri-Valley Growers Cannery used to stand adjacent to the San Benito Foods site as well, but the group went bankrupt in 2000. In 2001, the San Benito Foods Cannery was able to make a major expansion by acquiring the Tri-Valley Growers Hollister cannery assets.

As for volume processed each year, “The tons processed and cases produced vary from year to year based on a number of factors, including the prices we receive in the market place, the price of tomatoes, and what our competitors are doing,” Rounds wrote.

At this point, “We have seen growth in exports to Asia and Australia, as well in certain high-end products, such as our Italian Pear Tomatoes,” Rounds added.

San Benito Foods continues to make investments in the plant each year, Rounds reports, “whether in labor, yield or resource efficiency.”

According to Rounds, “It is an absolute necessity to survive in this very competitive business.”