Canned Fruits, Vegetables, Preserves, Jams, and Jellies

SIC 2033

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry includes establishments primarily engaged in canning fruits, vegetables, and fruit and vegetable juices; and in manufacturing ketchup and similar tomato sauces, or natural and imitation preserves, jams, and jellies. Establishments primarily engaged in canning seafood are classified in SIC 2091: Canned and Cured Fish and Seafoods; and those manufacturing canned specialties, such as baby foods and soups, except seafood, are classified in SIC 2032: Canned Specialties.

Industry Snapshot

According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., $1.7 billion worth of canned and bottled fruit was sold in the United States in 2009, whereas canned and bottled vegetable sales totaled $2.4 billion. Earlier in the decade, it was estimated that the food processing industry, including canned fruits and vegetables, accounted for nearly 13 percent of the value of goods produced each year. In the fruit and vegetable segment, that translated to about 7 billion pounds of canned products. Despite the numbers, the overall market continued its relative decline in favor of fresh and frozen products in the early 2010s.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), tomatoes, sweet corn, snap beans, green peas, and cucumbers for pickling were the five most processed vegetables in the industry in the late 2000s. Production costs of canned goods consisted of payments to farmers, container and label costs, labor, and fuel for transportation. Insurance, rental payments, and machinery costs also contributed to production costs.

Background and Development

Napoleon is credited with saying, "An army marches on its stomach." Whether or not this is an accurate quote, he knew the importance of supplying his troops with adequate wholesome food for a successful military campaign. When the governing French Directorate offered a prize in 1795 to the citizen who found a way to keep food fresh during campaigns, Napoleon supported the project. Fourteen years later, in 1810, Emperor Napoleon would award the prize to Nicholas Appert, an obscure French confectioner and chef, whose accomplishment secured his place in history.

Appert theorized that when food is heated in a container with no air in it, the food would keep. He cooked foods in cork-stopped bottles in boiling water, perfecting his methods. Proof of his success came when Appert's preserved fruits and vegetables were sent around the world on sailing ships and remained edible. Two months after Appert published his procedures, the English merchant Peter Durand applied to King George III for a patent for a "Method of Preserving Animal Food, Vegetable Food, or Other Perishable Articles a Long Time from Perishing or Becoming Useless." Durand's use of tin canisters in his process revolutionized food packaging and launched the canning industry as we know it. Captain Edward Perry took tinned foods on his Arctic expeditions in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Tinned pea soup and beef left behind by his party were recovered and eaten in 1911, and tins of veal and carrots from Perry's 1824 expedition were found to have been safely preserved when they were opened more than 100 years later, in 1939.

Around 1822, tinned foods came to the United States, and the first American patent for tin containers was granted three years later. By the mid-1800s, vegetable processing in steel canisters coated with tin to protect against rust and erosion became widespread, and the words "tin can" and "canning" entered the language. Canning came to mean sterilizing food by heat and sealing it in airtight metal or glass containers. Canning activities were undertaken both in food processing plants and in households across the country.

In 1861, canners began adding calcium chloride to the water in which they cooked their closed cans. This enabled canners to use higher temperatures, which shortened production time and increased production volume. The improved technology came just in time for the Civil War, which spurred a demand for canned products. By the time the war was over, the production of canned foods had grown six times over, and Americans had learned to trust the quality of canned products.

The importance of canned foods to the military was emphasized during World War II, when two-thirds of the food supplies for the United States and allied forces came in cans. When the Japanese capture of Malaya cut off important sources of tin, conservation of that metal on the home front became critical. At the same time, glass containers, which had previously been used for some foods, were often used in place of tin cans.

The advent of a wide variety of food package choices in the 1980s led to a decline in the sales of canned food in metal cans. Microwave-safe plastic containers, high-barrier film pouches, and form-fill and seal cups were some of the choices offered to consumers. Furthermore, some advertisers claimed superior freshness for foods packed in glass jars. In 1986, the Can Manufacturers Institute, the National Food Processors Association, and the American Steel Institute formed the Canned Food Information Council (CFIC) to restore canned foods' former level of acceptance and popularity by disseminating positive information about the nutritional quality and appetizing nature of foods in metal cans.

An interesting subsegment of the industry, officially formed in 1999, is the canning of vegetables and fruits through the use of combined heat and power (CHP). Jointly coordinated with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CHP segment of the canned fruit and vegetable industry produced about $15 million worth of shipments in the mid-2000s, capturing about 3 percent of the total market.

The USDA grades canned vegetables on a point system, rating them on such characteristics as texture, size, variety, maturity, taste, odor, and absence of defects. Three more standards were applied to canned foods by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Standard of Quality referred to the permitted number of defects or foreign materials; Standard of Fill specified the minimum content for a particular size can or jar; and Standard of Identity regulated what was in the container.

Nutritional Quality of Canned Foods.
Because canned foods are heat sterilized in a sealed steel can, there is no need for preservatives. As consumer tastes changed, the levels of salt and sugar, which were commonly added for flavor, were reduced to satisfy consumer demand for low-salt and low-sugar products. The CFIC reported a National Food Processors Association nutrition study conducted for the USDA. Because canned foods are already cooked, home-cooked fresh lima beans, peas, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, and squash were compared with frozen vegetables that were boiled or microwaved. Vitamin, mineral, and fiber content were found to be similar, and in some cases the canned product exceeded even its fresh counterpart in vitamin content; this is because fresh vegetables stored at room temperature lose 50 to 70 percent of Vitamin C and folate within two to three days. Studies comparing canned fruits to those fresh and frozen yielded similar results. Canning actually protects foods from oxygen that can destroy vitamins A, B, C, D, and carotene. The process can also eliminate up to 99 percent of pesticide residues and destroy the bacteria that leads to spoilage.

Vegetables and Fruits.
Most produce destined for canning goes directly from the growing fields to a nearby processing plant. Many varieties are bred and grown specifically for canning markets, and processing often requires a vegetable or fruit to have a higher percentage of soluble solids, such as meatier tomatoes, to create a high-quality product. Production methods allow vegetables to be canned within hours of harvest. Vegetables and fruit are chopped, sliced, peeled, or otherwise prepared for packing in cans in the plant where they are blanched to preserve texture and flavor. Once they are in vacuum-packed cans and sealed, they are sent into the retort, or cooker, to be heat-processed. Cooling is the final step before the cans are labeled and prepared for distribution.

In general, canned vegetables and fruits continued to lose shelf space in grocery stores, while fresh and frozen produce gained in popularity. Nonetheless, per capita use of canning vegetables (excluding potatoes) rose 2 percent to 101.7 pounds in 2004, according to the USDA. However, another USDA report, VGS-308, also showed a 2 percent increase but reported per capita disappearance at 99.8 pounds for 2004. Contract acreage for the leading processing vegetables was approximately 1.21 million acres in 2004, representing a 1 percent reduction from the previous year, which was attributed directly to fewer contract acres for canned vegetables.

Traditionally, children have been the nation's juice drinkers. Beginning in the 1980s, the industry saw a decline in adult consumption of some alcoholic beverages and a commensurate rise in adult juice consumption. Makers of bottled waters, soft drinks, and juices entered into spirited competition for these adult consumers. All-natural juices and cranberry juices enjoyed increased demand, and manufacturers continued to introduce new products. According to the 2004 census taken by Vending Times, juices constituted 7 percent of vending machine beverage sales in 2003, ranking just below bottled water at 8 percent, while soft drinks and diet soft drinks continued their monopoly with 70 percent of all vending machine sales. Juices and juice drinks lost ground in terms of vending machine sales from 2004 to 2009, declining 16 percent and 27 percent, respectively, according to Vending Times. Functional beverages, such as those providing vitamins and minerals as well as fewer calories, were a significant competitor for juices and grew significantly in the late 2000s.

In the closing years of the twentieth century, some juice manufacturers came under fire for misleading product labeling, and concerns regarding the safe production of juices persisted. A $2 million fine was levied by the federal government in the late 1980s on Beech-Nut Nutrition Corporation for selling a mix of sweetened water and chemicals as "apple juice." Investigators estimated that as much as 10 percent of juice sold, most of it orange juice, was adulterated, usually with sugar or watery orange by-products. Manufacturers cited in cases prior to 2000 were mostly major wholesalers to important producers and grocery chains, not companies familiar to the public.

Jams, Jellies, and Preserves.
This category consists of several distinct products. Jellies, a mixture of fruit juice, sugar, and pectin, are clear and bright with a tender but firm texture. Jams and preserves are thicker, made by cooking fruit, pectin, and sugar until the texture is almost a puree. In preserves, the fruit chunks are larger. Conserves, similar to jam, mix more than one kind of fruit and perhaps nuts. Marmalade contains citrus fruit rind, most often Seville oranges. Fruit butter is made by stewing fruit, sugar, and spices to a thick, smooth, spreadable consistency. Under federal guidelines, in order for a product to be called fruit preserves, jam, or jelly, it must contain 65 percent sugar and be so labeled. Reduced-sugar products that cater to health-conscious consumers are sweetened with fruit juice and must be called something other than jam or jelly. In this segment of the industry, the J.M. Smucker Company remained the nation's leading maker of jams and jellies, with 2009 sales of $4.6 billion.

The category battled innovative breakfast foods that competed with the traditional toast-and-jam breakfast. The introduction of specialty products, however, helped to reinvigorate the slow-growing segment. The category experienced the strongest sales in the autumn back-to-school season. New products such as peanut butter and jam mixed together in a jar, jams in squeeze bottles, and packages of peanut butter, jelly, and crackers were among the new items targeted toward jam consumers.

In the early 1990s, the Nutritional Labeling Education Act (NLEA) mandated sweeping changes in labeling, with the emphasis more on the relationship between nutrition and chronic disease than on vitamin and mineral content. Intended to reduce consumer confusion and end the chaos of individual manufacturers' label definitions, the act called for standardized serving sizes (reference amounts) and established rules for health claims and relating them to U.S. Recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) and U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for vitamin and mineral percentages. Because this legislation called for dramatic changes in the packaging for canned foods, some manufacturers complained that meeting the requirements of the NLEA legislation would substantially increase their production costs.

In terms of income, the canned fruits and vegetables industry showed little movement through the mid-2000s. Shipments in 2005 were valued at $18.9 billion, compared to $18.6 billion in 2002. The canning industry continued to lose ground in competition with the fresh and frozen food industries. An industry report using data measurements by the marketing information company Nielsen showed sales declines of 3.1 percent in canned vegetables, 5.3 percent in fruit, and 2.2 in tomatoes from 2003 to 2004. Some canners focused on the so-called value-added segment, such as asparagus, specialty corn, mushrooms in glass jars, and tomatoes, to boost sales. Recognizing and serving regional preferences, along with the sale of larger-sized packaging, were two other marketing tactics used by the canning industry. The combined market growth of refrigerated juice drinks, shelf-stable bottled juices, and shelf-stable canned juices still fell short of separate growth rates for either bottled water or frozen juices in supermarkets.

According to the USDA, 70 percent of U.S. tomato acreage was harvested for processed products in the mid-2000s. This equated to about 284,000 contract acres in 2005, excluding open market planting. Production of tomatoes for processing was estimated to be approximately 11 million short tons in 2005, slightly less than 2004 production, but well above the 9.8 million tons in 2003. Although number of acres harvested fluctuated in the 2000s, yield continued to increase. By 2009, yield was 42.64 tons per acre and total production was 13.9 million tons. Approximately 829,000 acres were dedicated to all canning vegetables in 2005, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. This represented a 2 percent decline from the previous year.

The total use of canning vegetables in 2004 rose nearly 3 percent to a record 29.3 billion pounds. General increases were noted for commodities such as pickling cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots. A pattern of slowly declining use was noted for green peas, asparagus, and sweet corn in the early 2000s. However, consumer and producer price indexes rose between 2 and 3 percent for canned vegetables and juices from 2004 to 2005.

In Datamonitor's 2004 industry profile, the overall U.S. juices market was characterized as having experienced relatively stable growth rates from 1999 to 2003, reaching a market value of $29.5 billion. The leading revenue source was the pure fruit sector, accounting for nearly 41 percent of the market value. The fruit drink sector, defined as containing no more than 30 percent fruit content, generated the second-largest market value. One of the market's largest customers was the USDA itself, which purchased more than 12.5 million pounds of fruit juices in fiscal year 2005, valued at $4.3 million, for distribution to needy families, child nutrition and school programs, and other related domestic food assistance programs.

Current Conditions

Production of fruit juices, though still carried on in the United States, had declined by the early twenty-first century. According to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center, for example, in 2009 about 6 percent of grapes grown in the United States were slated for juices and less than 1 percent for canning. The vast majority, at 90 percent, was used for wines and raisin products. Total grape production for juice was 438,000 tons in 2009. However, this figure represents uses other than for grape juice. Juice grapes also are used to enhance the flavor of other processed fruit juices and add to the total juice content of most processed fruit juices and blends.

Tomatoes remained an important canned commodity in the United States into the 2010s. According to the USDA, the United States was the world's second largest producer of tomatoes, after China. In 2008, about 89 percent of tomatoes produced in the United States was for processing. A large majority of these tomatoes came from California, and in fact, that state accounted for 94 percent of the land planted and harvested in processing tomatoes. U.S. consumption of processed tomatoes grew throughout the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first, as Americans increased their intake of such food items as pizza, pasta, and salsa. According to the USDA, the largest processed use of tomatoes in 2010 was in sauces (35 percent), followed by paste (18 percent), canned whole tomato products (17 percent), and catsup and juice (15 percent each).

Industry Leaders

A number of large canners of fruits and vegetables fought for domestic market share as global market competition increased. Among U.S. leaders were H.J. Heinz Company, Del Monte Foods Company, Campbell Soup Company, and Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. Heinz, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had 29,600 employees and 2009 sales of almost $10.5 billion, up from $9.0 billion in 2007. The firm had a diverse product line of more than 5,700 items. The top manufacturer of private-label soup, Heinz was also the leader of the ketchup segment. In 1998, however, Heinz ketchup's market share had dropped to a low of 44 percent. Ketchup, which accounted for 11 percent of total company revenues, was Heinz's crown jewel. To ignite sales, Heinz launched an aggressive marketing campaign and introduced new products and new packaging, including plastic squeeze bottles. By 2004, Heinz's share of the domestic ketchup market had rebounded to 60 percent. In 2010, Heinz's major products included Ore-Ida frozen potatoes, T.G.I. Friday's and Weight Watchers frozen foods, and Classico pasta sauces.

Del Monte Foods of San Francisco, California, was one of the largest producers and distributors of canned fruit and vegetables in the United States in 2010. The company had gone public in 1999, and in 2009, it had 14,700 employees and revenues of $3.7 billion. Its brand names College Inn, Del Monte, and Contadina were household names in the industry.

Campbell Soup Company of Camden, New Jersey, was the world leader in the soup market in 2010. Its 2009 revenues totaled $7.5 billion. The company was also the maker of Pace picante sauce, V8 beverages, and Franco-American canned pasta. Despite its command of the soup segment, Campbell suffered from sluggish sales in the 2000s. To stimulate sales, the company attempted to diversify its product line, introducing such new soup items as ready-to-serve soups in resealable plastic containers and soups in individual-sized microwave cans.

Based in Lakeville-Middleboro, Massachusetts, Ocean Spray Cranberries remained the leading producer of canned, bottled, and shelf-stable juices in North America. A cooperative of 600 cranberry and 50 citrus growers in the United States and Canada, Ocean Spray had annual sales of about $1.5 billion in 2009. Due to the increased popularity of cranberry drinks, Ocean Spray enjoyed strong sales and commanded about 75 percent of the cranberry market.


Due to increased levels of automation, as well as streamlining and cost-cutting efforts by industry leaders, the total number of employees in the fruit and vegetable canning industry continued to decline from the 1990s. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the fruit and vegetable canning industry employed approximately 57,189 workers in 2007, down from 81,234 workers in 2005 and 89,008 in 2002. About 83 percent of employees were production workers.

America and the World

Canned food exports from the United States constituted only 3 percent of the total canned foods global market in the mid-2000s. According to the U.S. Export Bureau, the United States was in twelfth place for canned food trade. China was in first place. Nonetheless, canned fruits and vegetables were among the top five industries in foreign trade. Heinz, for instance, averaged about half of its total sales from overseas operations. In the burgeoning processed tomato segment, exports enjoyed growing sales. According to Supplier Relations U.S., imports of canned fruits and vegetables in 2009 were valued at $4 billion, while exports were worth $2.2 billion.

Research and Technology

One necessary shot in the arm for the industry was the publication and dissemination of information from the scientific community promoting the nutritional and disease-fighting properties of a carotenoid and antioxidant called lycopene. Although lycopene is naturally found in raw tomatoes and other vegetables, research indicated that lycopene was found in much larger amounts in cooked and processed tomatoes. By 2002, studies indicated positive effects and better prognoses for prostate cancer patients who consumed regular meals of tomato sauces and other cooked tomato products, and by the mid-2000s, the positive effects of lycopene were expanded to include other diseases and ailments as well.

The industry itself continued installation conversions to new retort systems at a number of plants. Some automated systems were flexible enough to process food in glass jars, flexible pouches, plastic tubs, or irregular shapes. In batch retorting, a single operator can handle a system that automatically stacks cans in trays, conveys them into the retort, removes them after sterilization and cooling, and carries them back to a destacker.

The cranberry juice mogul Ocean Spray announced in 2005 that it would fuel its Wisconsin Rapids plant with a one-mile-long pipeline carrying a methane gas by-product from a nearby landfill. By tapping that waste gas, greenhouse emissions from the landfill would be reduced by nearly 7,000 tons per year, with an environmental benefit equal to the planting of 15,000 trees or removing carbon monoxide emissions from 12,000 vehicles.

Starting in the early 2000s, disposable containers for canned products increasingly replaced traditional metal and glass containers. New on the scene were "pouch" containers, which were portable, disposable, and affordable for everything from canned fruits and juices to bean casseroles. This new innovative packaging also served to abate the environmental concerns of many consumers. Recyclable plastic containers also continued to replace glass containers, especially in the juice drink industry.

By the 2010s, manufacturers were coming up with new ways to make canned fruits and vegetables more convenient and accessible to the on-the-go American public. For example, pull-tabs on fruit and vegetable cans eliminated the need for a can opener, and single-serve canned fruits and vegetables were marketed as healthy and easy-to-eat snacks. Industry participants also jumped on the environmental bandwagon and worked to educate the public on the recyclability of metal cans. According to Mike Dunleavy of Crown Holdings in Philadelphia and reported in a 2010 Private Label Buyer article, "metal not only is 100 percent recyclable but also can be recycled an infinite number of times without any degradation in the end package's quality."

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