BC Tree Fruits says its decision to end operations at the Kelowna and Lake Country packinghouse was made due to the industry facing “many challenges over the last number of years.”
Farm inputs continue to rise, while weather events over the last three seasons put pressure on local growers, and that’s led to losses of fruit volume across all commodities.
The company had planned to build a new state-of-the-art facility near the Kelowna International Airport, but that plan has been axed. The company now intends to move their operations to Oliver, B.C.
“We felt that we needed to make an adjustment in the size of our business, to reduce our costs and ultimately position us to deliver those returns in the future,” said President and CEO of BC Tree Fruits, Warren Sarafinchan.
“The economics in this case with the substantial increase in construction costs, coupled with the increase in interest rates, all come together. So even though the team in Winfield has done an exceptional job, the economics would say that Oliver is the right place for us to make an investment.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes several stops in the Okanagan
The announcement means that nearly 100 people will lose their jobs, but BC Tree Fruits says it’s making an effort to help some of the affected employees by offering them a job transfer to Oliver.
“Unfortunately, these are very difficult decisions and we’re trying,” explained Sarafinchan. “We’ll be working with our employees and the union to make the transition as smooth as possible.”
Central Okanagan economy showing early signs of recovery after being hit hard by the pandemic
The current facility in Oliver features a combination of newer and older technology on the packing line but the vast majority of equipment will soon be replaced by more modern standards.
Personnel battling Keremeos Creek wildfire camping at Oliver, B.C. airport
“Myself and a number of colleges have looked at equipment in Washington state, as well we’ve been over to Europe and we’ve looked extensively at equipment and we know what the best options are,” Sarafinchan said.
“We haven’t made any final decisions, but I am confident and committed to putting world-class equipment in place which ultimately will help increase the returns to our growers.”
Although the days of operation in Kelowna and Lake Country are numbered, the company says it will continue to have roots in the Kelowna area well into the future.
“We have a piece of land on Old Vernon Road, its about a 90-acre parcel of land and we’re currently working to figure out what we can do to support and help the agricultural community and our growers and how we utilize that facility,” said Sarafinchan.
Lake Country, B.C. man going greener with $500K lottery win
“Our corporate office will continue to be here, so even though we’re moving the fruit packing operations down to Oliver, Kelowna is still a very important community for us and we’ll continue to be a key part of it.”
As for the future of the popular BC Tree Fruits Market and Cidery attached to the Kelowna facility, the status is unknown, but Sarafinchan says the building will be put up for sale at some point.
‘Bounce back year’ for Kelowna’s tourism sector