With Father’s Day just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to share my recent conversation with one of my favorite dads, Andy Russick, Vice President of Sales and Marketing and Customer Service for Pacific Coast Producers. Andy has been “very happily married to Kathleen (Martin) Russick for 32 years and has two very pleasant, smart and cheerful daughters, Chloe (29) and Jana (27).” As the private label leader in canned fruits and tomatoes, I wanted to get Andy’s take on the state of canned foods, learn more Pacific Coast Producers’ mission & vision, and hear about how this company continues to grow their following of incredibly loyal Can Fans!

Andy I’ve known you for many years and one of the things that I think is most remarkable about you, is that your enthusiasm for canned fruits and tomatoes-has never waned; in fact, I’d say it’s grown over time. Where does all of this energy come from?

I am incredibly proud to be a part of a team that is feeding the world. As the private label leader in canned fruits and tomatoes we are THE BRAND—we are the brand behind all of the store brands and the brand behind all of the foodservice brands. We provide the best tasting, safest, most affordable, pantry-friendly fruits and tomatoes to the world and it’s something that we’re always striving to do better. And beyond our internal team, we’ve developed friendships with hundreds of RDs, chefs, writers, nutrition influencers, etc. because we’ve spent time with them in our orchards and fields and canneries and they now are also energized “Can Fans!” I am kind of an anxious person, so high excitement for the food biz is what burns away my worries. Plus my doctor took me off sugar, so now fueling with straight black coffee. So yeah, all of this is what get’s me going each and every day.

I’ve been noticing lots of new products coming on the market from Pacific Coast Producers:  pineapple spears packed in glass, sweetened with coconut water; organic peaches packed in fruit juice; organic fire roasted tomatoes; tropical fruit bowls in lightly sweetened coconut water; Mexican-style diced tomatoes and more. Are these new items representative of how the canning industry is changing or more specifically, do they represent how Pacific Coast Producers has changed?  

Ninety present of what I sell is in the can, and we’re also driven by the desire to be something more than just be a canner. What we want to do is be as cool, cost-efficient and interesting as possible. If you can add value, then you can make products that are more interesting to consumers—so yes we are expanding a bit into glass and adding more cup options. Thanks to the current labor force, more and more restaurants are asking for something that is ready to use. Our goal is to think about what people are actually making and then give them those products that will help them save some time. Our customers ask us, “What else can you do for us?” We have friends in Peru Thailand, Indonesia, Costa Rica who have really awesome products, but no distribution. We work with these alliance partners to get tropical items and more into our US 50 states.

We have 550 items that we pack and we ask ourselves, what else goes with these products? That’s where our alliance partners come in.  We have 600 customers in the US. If you’re a regional retailer you can get a customized pallet from us instead of a whole container of just an item or two.

Even though PCP imports several items, Russick says “My goal would be to have more items grown and packed here in the US.”

What are the greatest myths around canned products? Let’s start with canned tomatoes?  What about canned fruits? 

There is a certain guilt that a consumer feels about buying anything processed. What do they feel guilty about? They have somewhere in the back of their minds that anything in a can is over-salted, over-sugared or over-cooked. Not only is none of that true, but we’re working very hard to dispel those myths. Covid gave us a great lift. People realized that they could go to the store and get everything they needed for two weeks when they included canned fruits and tomatoes. And do so with zero waste. There’s a little clip out there that says six and a half of all tomatoes grown never get consumed because of the ripeness factor. So the good thing about cans is that our tomatoes are packed within hours at the peak of ripeness and cooked with a minimal thermal dynamic process. And that thermal dynamic process is what seals in all of the freshness and flavor and keeps it in place until the consumer is ready to pop open a can. In fact, the canning process actually makes some nutrients more bioavailable: canned tomatoes have increased levels of lycopene; canned peaches and apricots have increased levels of antioxidants and folate* This is one of the great mysteries of science. So not only are our products just a nutritious or more nutritious than fresh, but the canning process actually prevents food borne illnesses from being present. And that’s why you never hear about a recall for canned fruit or canned tomatoes.

What’s your 10-word “pitch” as to why someone should try a can of your fruit? 

Fruit is a snack. Fruit is very pleasing. Fruit is ready when you are and that’s really cool. It tastes nice and sweet; 65% of what we make is packed in it’s own juice (peach/pear juice). Canned fruit is good for you. Affordable. Convenient. Long-lasting. Give us a try. Don’t hate. Fresher than you think. Zero waste. There’s no way I can fit this into 10 words!

What excites you most about working at a grower-owned cooperative? 

The best thing about working for a grower owned cooperative is that I am helping, in my small part, to preserve the family farm. We sell 54 M cases a year for our 160 grower- owners of this company. Back in the 70’s our company was founded because a number of canneries were closing and so our growers lost their long-term home. Their solution:  buy and run their own cannery. So in my own small way my group here is helping preserve the family farm which is something that has really struggled in the last 50 years. We’re also helping the US be more self-sufficient with its food supply as consumers’ get the products they need right here at home.

*Oregon State University “Nutritional Content of Canned Peaches” Study https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/biblio/nutritional-content-fresh-and-canned-peaches

Why is it important for buyers and consumers to support companies that pack tomatoes and fruit from the US? 

There is nobody else in the world who treats workers better, treats the environment better, treats our employees better, and their farm and farm employees than a grower cooperative. The growers need to make sure that they are doing sustainable things and are being stewards of their land instead miners of their land. I’m helping our 160 growers have a long-term home for their goods and it’s all done with plant-based products. And we spend $30M a year on our canneries to come up with better and better technology which means better and better quality for our consumers. Additionally we’ve reduced our green house gases from 20 parts per million to 5 parts per million with our new boiler. And that’s just one example. It’s pretty awesome what we’re doing.

What else do you want our readers to know about Pacific Coast Producers’ products? We’re in this for the long-term. By investing in our growers, in our plants, in our employees, and in our environment, we are producing the best tasting, most sustainable canned fruits and tomatoes while delivering a product to consumers that is nutritious, safe and ready-to-eat with just a pop of a lid.

How can others become Can Fans?!

There’s lots of ways, but the first step would be to follow us on Instagram @pacificcoastproducers1971

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