Bell-Carter Cancels Table Olive Contracts in California

Citing the need to remain competitive in an increasingly global market as well as the high costs of production in California, the American table olive canner and retailer has canceled many of its contracts with local growers.

Mar. 14, 2019
By Daniel Dawson

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Bell-Carter has ter­mi­nated many” of its table olive pur­chas­ing con­tracts with California grow­ers, accord­ing to Tim T. Carter, the company’s CEO.

This ter­mi­na­tion is effec­tive imme­di­ately and we will not receive your har­vest in 2019,” Carter wrote in a let­ter to grow­ers, a copy of which was obtained by Olive Oil Times.

We don’t have any alter­nate buy­ers, and we are seek­ing to fill the void or suf­fer a loss. I’m not sure yet what to do if we are stuck with unsold olives.- Ud Shanker, affected California olive grower

In the let­ter, which was sent out to table olive pro­duc­ers at the begin­ning of this month, Carter cited the need to com­pete in a global mar­ket­place and the increas­ing cost of pro­duc­tion for California olives as two of the rea­sons for the can­cel­la­tions of the con­tracts.

In a state­ment to Olive Oil Times, Carter declined to say how many con­tracts had been can­celed.

Bell-Carter com­petes in a global mar­ket­place as a can­ner and mar­keter of table olives,” he said. Unfortunately, due to ris­ing cost increases for California olives, Bell-Carter made the nec­es­sary but dif­fi­cult deci­sion to release many California grower con­tracts.”

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While this deci­sion is extremely dif­fi­cult for us and for our many grower part­ners dat­ing back three gen­er­a­tions, it is imper­a­tive to remain com­pet­i­tive and viable,” Carter added.

These words, as well as the let­ter, came as lit­tle com­fort to Ud Shanker, a table olive pro­ducer in California’s Central Valley.

With the excep­tion of a few years dur­ing the past 19 years, we have seen our olive pro­duc­tion grow to exceed 20 tons,” Shanker told Olive Oil Times. Some years we have pro­duced more than 30 tons. All sold to Bell-Carter.”

Shanker now has an abun­dance of table olives and nowhere to send them. He is cur­rently in the process of look­ing for new buy­ers, as are many other Central Valley pro­duc­ers who find them­selves with full stocks and nowhere to send the olives.

We don’t have any alter­nate buy­ers, and we are seek­ing to fill the void or suf­fer a loss,” he said. I’m not sure yet what to do if we are stuck with unsold olives.”

Spanish olive oil giant DCoop and their Moroccan part­ner, Devica, bought a 20 per­cent stake in Bell-Carter last August in a move that was widely seen as a way for the Spanish com­pany to evade United States-tar­iffs imposed on Spanish table olives. Bell-Carter denies that this is the case.

As part of the agree­ment, Dcoop and Devica have become the near-exclu­sive sup­pli­ers of Bell-Carter’s table olives, accord­ing to a state­ment made by DCoop’s pres­i­dent, Antonio Luque, last August.

Carter said, in spite of these can­cel­la­tions, Bell-Carter would con­tinue to source some of its table olives from California grow­ers.

While we have released many con­tracts, we will con­tinue to main­tain enough acres to sup­port demand from cus­tomers that require California-grown olives,” he said.

This came as lit­tle solace to farm­ers, such as Shanker, who believe they are being unfairly out­com­peted by Spanish imports.

It’s cheaper to buy from Spain than from us,” Shanker said. ”[There is] no pro­tec­tion for local farm­ers.”

He believes that the United States and California should do some­thing to pro­tect American olive pro­duc­ers.

It is immensely impor­tant for the U.S Department of Agriculture, California Department of Food and Agriculture or another orga­ni­za­tion to help olive grow­ers,” Shanker said. If soy­bean grow­ers are get­ting grants, why not us?”

In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission found that Spanish table olive imports were hurt­ing local pro­duc­ers after the lat­ter received two com­plaints from Bell-Carter and another California olive pro­ducer.

These find­ings were then the basis for the impo­si­tion of tar­iffs on Spanish table olives, which ranged from 7.52 per­cent to 27.02 per­cent. DCoop and Devica pro­ceeded to pur­chase their 20-per­cent stake in Bell-Carter the fol­low­ing month, which allowed the two com­pa­nies to ship table olives to the U.S. to be oxi­dized and be pack­aged, before sell­ing them in the coun­try with­out hav­ing to pay the tar­iffs.

What are we sup­posed to do?” Shanker asked. This may destroy the local olive indus­try here.”


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