Bruce McVean, CEO of New Season in Forest Grove, which produces vegetable powders for use in Japanese soups. // Photo by Shaun Strickland
“If budgets are tight, you can always afford soup,” says New Season president and CEO Bruce McVean. New Season produced almost 1,000 metric tons of sweet corn powder this year destined for soup factories in Japan that are owned by parent company Ajinomoto. New Season has 30 full-time employees and hires an additional 70 for sweet-corn processing during the harvest in late summer.
New Season started producing the soup ingredient for Ajinomoto on contract in 1985 and was purchased outright by the Japanese company in 2007. “Having a strong yen works in our favor,” McVean says of the export of his product to Japanese markets.
The fall in the dollar’s value is partly due to the weakened housing market, a market upon which many businesses in and around Forest Grove are dependent. “Residential and commercial have been hit pretty hard,” Forest Grove economic development coordinator Jeffery King says. The city has a 10.5% unemployment rate.
“Three years ago, the statewide [plant nursery] industry was $1 billion,” says Fisher Farms Nursery owner Bob Terry, who is also president-elect of the American Nursery and Landscape Association. “I would be surprised if it wasn’t below $700 million this year,” he says. It’s no surprise, then, that the 1,200-acre Forest Grove Hines Nursery laid off a majority of its employees this fall.
New Season contracts with 13 local corn farmers and one near Boardman to supply its corn, and sources its other products from the Northwest region. “We pay them a little more than they’d get on the market,” McVean says. That said, fluctuating food prices may compel their contracted farmers to grow soybeans or wheat instead of corn.
“Farmers are definitely tuned in to markets in Asia,” McVean says. “They think more globally.”