Seven students and alumni from the Food and Agribusiness Institute visited Ingomar Packing Company on August 9th to learn about the tomato processing industry from FAI alumnus and board member, and Ingomar CEO, Greg Pruett. Greg started by giving us a history of the company and some information about their current acreage and production. He also answered questions ranging from issues the company is facing, such as water shortages in the Central Valley, to sustainability and distribution. After donning hardhats and ear plugs, Greg led the group on a tour that began with ripe tomatoes and concluded with tomato paste and canned tomatoes.
FAI specialization student Satpaul Bains said, "The tour shows how many processes there are to create a product from a raw material, and it allowed students to learn the difficulties in competing with other competitors offering commodities. This trip also gave us the opportunity to actually see the process that creates value for the producer and the technology that is utilized to create a consistent product while trying to gain economies of scale."
Ingomar produces three types of tomato products: hot break tomato paste, which includes concentrated crushed tomato paste, cold break tomato paste, and aseptic diced tomatoes in juice. Greg gave students an extensive tour of his production facility and explained how tomatoes are selected for each product, the grade necessary for each product and the machinery used for each part of the process. Students watched as tomatoes were sorted, both by machine and by hand, the heating process to strip the tomatoes of their skins and seeds and the process of packaging and canning the tomatoes or paste to be distributed to companies around the country. Mahbod Parvar, a recent alumnus of FAI, said "Living in a city, we often lose sight of where our foods come from and how they get made. Visiting the Ingomar factory in Los Banos provided a new perspective on how tomato paste is made, packaged, and shipped."
FAI Network President Ray Shady, who arranged the tour for the students, remarked: "In addition to being an enormous operation, Ingomar's attention to quality, emphasis on efficiency and process control were also very impressive. Greg was a welcoming host and generously took additional time out of his day to take us through parts of the plant not on a traditional tour."
Greg demonstrated how a chemist in a lab tests samples regularly to ensure the quality of the product and all of the students were able to try the still-warm sample of tomato paste.
Zach Wise, an FAI specialization student and member of the winning IFAMA case study competition team said: “The tour of the Ingomar Packing tomato plant was an eye opening experience. The sheer size and incredible efficiency of the plant was very impressive. For someone interested in the food and agribusiness industry, it’s always interesting to see how the products behind the well-known brands are really produced. Greg was a wonderful host, and was very generous with his time and knowledge of the industry. Overall, it was a great experience."