- 1941 - 1945 -
The Fruit Front 
 

"We can march without shoes,
We can fight without guns,
We can fly without wings
To flap over the Huns.
We can sing without bands,
Parade without banners,
But no modern army
Can eat without canners."

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Grove of the Quartermaster Corps

     The story of canning fruit cocktail in World War II reveals the difficulties canners faced in wartime production, FDA product standardization, rationing, material shortages, and labor shortages. During the war, cannery owners had to deftly negotiate between the various war mobilization agencies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue to operate. For canners, sugar and tin rationing presented a great challenge. Much time was spent trying to pack products while short on essential ingredients while meeting the standards required by military contracts and the FDA. They also had trouble obtaining laborers, machinery, fuel, and vehicles because the vast military presence in the around the San Francisco Bay absorbed so many people, materials, and products.

     According to a Tri Valley Packing Association (TVPA) history, rationing and price ceilings made it very difficult for the cooperative to pack as they normally did. It was very hard to predict the market. Military needs were essentially controlling the market. In 1944, TVPA sold forty-nine percent of its vegetable pack to the military and sixty-three percent of its fruit pack. The chaotic conditions made it necessary for canners to pack everything without any idea what they were going to sell.

     Usually, they only packed what they needed. For example, if there were a large supply of apricots from the previous year, the canners normally reduced the amount of apricots packed and focused on peaches.  Orders changed as the military's needs changed. The canners were trying to cover their production costs, so they did not want to find themselves with a warehouse full of spinach or pears that no one wanted to purchase. In addition to the lost money spent on production, they could not afford the storage space for large quantities of canned products. Despite all the shortages, restrictions, and mandates, the canners did not ignore their patriotic duty to the United States or fail to deliver the contracts they had signed with the War Department.

Sources

Bentley, C. H. "The Tin Can in War." Del Monte Activities, July, 1918.

California League of Food Processors Papers, University of California - Davis, Shields Library Special Collections.