2006年11月19日

Del Monte shuts down; 551 will lose jobs

Del Monte Fresh Produce abruptly ended its century-old pineapple operations in Hawai'i yesterday, two years earlier than originally planned.

The decision threw 551 employees out of work and left Dole Food Co. as the only major pineapple grower on O'ahu. The workers will remain on the payroll until they are officially laid off in January.

With the closure of Del Monte, it's clear Hawai'i's once famous pineapple export industry — which brought waves of immigrant workers and contributed to the state's multicultural heritage — is struggling to compete with overseas producers.

Growing pine-apple for export on expensive Hawai'i real estate with relatively high paid workers makes less sense when the fruit can be grown at a much lower cost in the Philippines, Thailand and Costa Rica.

Still Del Monte's surprise announcement caught employees and state officials unprepared since the company had said just nine months ago that it would continue production until the end of 2008.

"The extreme drop in production volume, coupled with depressed pineapple pricing resulting from the increase of supply in the overall pineapple market has had a negative financial impact on the company," Del Monte said in a statement yesterday.

"As a result, the company regretfully will not be able to sustain a financially viable operation in Hawai'i as originally planned through 2008."

The disclosure sent shockwaves through Hawai'i's agricultural industry and prompted responses from a number of elected and government officials, including U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who said he was certain the closure would have a negative effect on employees. Maui Land & Pineapple Co. said it was willing to step in to salvage the existing crop and look into other crop uses for the more than 5,000 acres Del Monte farmed.