Tracing Tracy Territory: Heinz no longer subject of local interest
by Sam Matthews
Feb 22, 2013 | 4380 views | 1 1 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The announcement last week that Warren Buffet is heading up a group of investors to purchase the H.J. Heinz Co. and take it private has caused a major stir in financial circles.

But in our town, there was hardly a ripple of interest in the pending ownership change and how it might affect Heinz operations and its employees.

There have questions raised about possible insider trading before last week’s announcement was made and whether Heinz directors had sought all possible bidders, but especially with Buffet in the game, it seems a good bet the deal will go through.

It doesn’t seem that many years ago that any major changes regarding Heinz would be big news around here. Actually, it was longer than you think. The Heinz factory was closed 15 years ago, in January 1998.

Before then — for 51 years — Heinz was not only one of Tracy’s major industries, but also a source of community pride and identity.

That all changed when Heinz officials in Pittsburgh decided the firm no longer would process tomato paste and ketchup in Tracy and instead would outsource paste production to the firms that had built highly mechanized, non-unionized paste factories in the Central Valley.

No longer would more than a half-million tons of tomatoes be processed locally each year. Paste not made into ketchup here was stored in steel tanks and shipped in tank cars east to Heinz plants to be turned into ketchup.

Now the paste produced elsewhere in California is shipped in 300-gallon Scholle plastic bags and fork-lifted in and out of regular rail cars that head to places like Muscatine, Iowa, and Fremont, Ohio, for processing into ketchup. The tank farm at the Tracy factory and tank cars had been replaced by new technology.

The ketchup made back east would then have to be shipped back to California for distribution. At the time, Heinz still operated its Tracy warehouse (but no longer).

How much Heinz saved — or lost — by shipping tomato paste from California back east and then the finished products back to the West Coast is a matter of conjecture among some former Heinz employees. Several believe the cost calculations didn’t add up.

Since Heinz was mostly a good place to work and was a solid corporate citizen, there was more sadness than anger around here when the plant was shuttered.

And while few Tracyites have Heinz on the radar these days, there are at least few former employees of the Tracy factory working at the Heinz specialty tomato-products plant in Escalon. They’re the last vestiges of a robust workforce that was once the largest tomato-processing plant in the Heinz universe.

The trophies are coming

With spring training bursting out all over, both in Florida and Arizona, attention is beginning to focus on Major League Baseball once again.

Tracyites will have an opportunity to really get into the baseball mood a month from now, on March 20, when the San Francisco Giants’ 2012 World Series Championship Trophy, along with the 2010 title trophy, will be on display here for two hours.

From 4 to 6 p.m. at Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall, fans will file by to get a close-up look at the two trophies. A professional photographer will be there to snap photos for those who want them.

In addition, the city of Tracy will host a drawing for tickets to a Giants game this season, and Tracy Breakfast Lions will serve hamburgers and hot dogs.

From the turnout of baseball fans who have lined up to see the World Series trophy in other cities, there should be a good-sized — I mean really big — crowd in front of City Hall on March 20.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
February 22, 2013
Processed foods are not down, but the need to cut cost is there. If I had an extra $23 billion I would also purchase the Heinz plant and put my wallet on the wall at the Four Corners restaurant. Like the one at Woodside. One of the perks for an agriculture based business is that all the expertise is already here. And that is the best way to cut costs. Lower training costs, which is one of the most expensive aspects to running a business.

As a business owner you don't have to go to Iowa and train them to unlearn Monsanto. You just have to hire the local people who grew up raising chickens, and picking those tomatoes from the backyard garden. Most of the people in central valley schools were FFA or 4H or knew someone who was. In the central valley, agriculture is in our blood and psyche. You can't teach that in India where a manager yells at an employee telling him he can be replaced by fifty others, who are just as willing to be trained.

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