Cannery in Planada on verge of closure

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 2, 2013 

YESENIA AMARO/yamaro@mercedsunstar.com Eric Bocks, owner of Oasis Foods Inc. stands outside the plant in Planada on Friday afternoon. (2-1-13) The company is for sale.

PLANADA -- The owners of a longtime cannery in Planada and the last fig cannery left in the country are trying to come up with a strategy to keep the plant running.

If Eric and Lorraine Bocks are not able to find a solution to keep Oasis Foods Inc. afloat, the plant could shut down after more than 75 years.

"The canned market has been shrinking for a long time," Eric Bocks said. "It's a little sad for us."

Eric Bocks' family took over Oasis Foods in 1974, and he took over the operation in 1986.

The plant began to bring in less profits after Tri Valley Growers -- a growers cooperative -- went bankrupt in 2000. "When they closed, that was the majority of our income," Eric Bocks said.

In addition, the way people eat nowadays is different than it was a few years ago.

"A lot of your fruit was canned," Lorraine Bocks said. "Now there's fresh fruit all the time."

The technology and methods for frozen fruits and foods have also improved while that of the canned industry hasn't changed much, she added.

They tried canned figs -- an uncommon product -- but they weren't a good return on their investment, so the Bocks decided to try canning prunes. However, a year and a half ago, they decided the numbers didn't pencil out, Eric Bocks said.

Plant is up for sale

Now the Bocks have put the 74,000- square-foot plant up for sale, but still remain optimistic that they can come up with a solution to keep the operation running. They are also on the lookout for potential partners to help save the company.

"It's a sad thing but maybe this is a place to grow with somebody and keep Planada kind of vibrant," Eric Bocks said. "In a competitive world you have to think outside the box."

The couple is looking at all options, he said.

"We would like to bring something new here that would bring jobs," Lorraine Bocks said. "Planada has a work force that's ready to work."

But if they can't find a solution, that would be the end of the company.

"It's just going to be done," Eric Bocks said. "I'm just praying that doesn't happen."

Hector N. Ortiz, 74, has been the family's ranch foreman since 1985. He said things have definitely changed.

The plant used to have three good-sized crews when they used to do canned figs. "There was a lot of work opportunities," he said. "It was a big deal here in Planada."

Community facing a big loss

The company, which used to have up to 200 employees in the field picking figs and about 40 at the cannery, now only employs 10 to 15, Eric Bocks said. They only work three days a month with the prunes.

But if the company were to shut down it would still be a loss to the community, Ortiz said.

"You close a place like this and it hurts," he said.

Planada resident Juan M. Juarez, 54, said he's had friends who worked at the plant in past years. But he also noticed that the company was slowly going under.

"It's something very sad if they close it or sell it," he said in Spanish. "The community will feel it, especially now the way employment is."

Juarez said there's a big need for jobs in Planada. Many people have to drive up to Stockton to work because there aren't enough jobs in the area, he said.

Planada resident Alma Moreno, 42, said losing those jobs would be difficult for the community. She's had to drive up to two hours for work.

"More opportunities are really needed," she said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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