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B.C. Tree Fruits plant closing Lake Country location, moving to South Okanagan

The B.C. Tree Fruits building in downtown Kelowna was once a sign of the 'golden age' of the Okanagan fruit industry.
The B.C. Tree Fruits building in downtown Kelowna was once a sign of the 'golden age' of the Okanagan fruit industry.

Despite the fact that 70% of the apples grown by B.C. Tree Fruits Cooperative members come from the Central and North Okanagan, they will no longer be going to a local packinghouse.

Instead, once the harvest is in this fall, the Lake Country packing plant will shut its doors permanently and the fruit will be hauled to Oliver for sorting and packing, then back to the Central Okanagan for shipping to markets across North America and into Asia.

That’s being done instead of building a brand-new, state-of-the-art packing house on 85 acres B.C. Tree Fruits owns in Lake Country.

“The savings of investing in Oliver more than offset the incremental transportation costs,” B.C. Tree Fruits CEO Warren Sarafinchan told “The difference is that we already have a standing facility in Oliver that we’re going to retrofit to take on this additional capacity and our Oliver site has the potential to grow beyond what we’re doing today.”

B.C. Tree Fruits Oliver packing plant.
B.C. Tree Fruits Oliver packing plant.
Image Credit: Google maps

It comes down to basic construction costs and space.

The existing Lake Country packing plant on Bottom Wood Lake Road doesn’t have the capacity to be retrofitted and expanded at its current location. That’s why the cooperative bought 85 acres nearby.

But, with rising construction costs, it makes financial sense – at least $20 million worth – to retrofit the existing building in Oliver and expand it in the future, if need be.

That means the loss of 90 jobs in Lake Country but the addition of 40 new full-time jobs in Oliver. Some of those, potentially, will be filled by Kelowna workers.

B.C. Tree Fruits, after the changes are made, will have 300 workers, 150 of them at the Oliver plant. It has 270 growers who produce more than half the apples grown in the Okanagan.

The cooperative also handles pears and soft fruits.

The co-op started in Kelowna in 1936.

Despite the fact it sold its office building in downtown Kelowna for $7.5 million in 2020 and its warehouse near the Tolko mill site last year for almost $24 million, it will still have “deep roots” in Kelowna, Sarafinchan said.

READ MORE: B.C. Tree Fruits office in downtown Kelowna sells for $7.5M

The head office, cidery, storage facility and retail outlet will remain.

Nothing will change for the growers in terms of shipping their apples since they will use the same transfer stations, Sarafinchan said.

What it will mean is that the cooperative will be more economically secure. Earlier this year it extended its price guarantee for apples as long as the fruit is of a high enough quality, Sarafinchan said.

In the past, growers were left somewhat to the dictates of the markets and could wait months to know how much of their crop sold and for how much.

“That gives them comfort, when they are buying fertilizers that are now more expensive, protective sprays that are more expensive, etc.,” Sarafinchan said. “They can now invest with a level of confidence that, if they create good quality fruit, they’ve got a guaranteed return.”

The change in plans was announced to growers on Wednesday after workers were told.

The decision is getting mixed reviews.

“I’ve had lot of positive calls from growers who have expressed that they understand it was a difficult decision but recognize, in order to create a sustainable cooperative and a sustainable tree fruit industry, that this change is absolutely necessary,” Sarafinchan said.

“I’ve had calls from growers who are asking a lot of questions so they can understand the decision. Then I’ve talked to some growers who are concerned. But this is not a case where all growers are anxious. I’m getting calls from growers all through the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, up to and including Vernon, that are pleased with this choice.”

READ MORE: $24M sale of Kelowna waterfront property will trigger hundreds of millions in economic impact

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