Tomato processing business vital to Los Banos economy

cpride@losbanosenterprise.comMay 2, 2014 

If you’ve eaten processed tomato products in the past few decades there’s a chance you’ve tasted something produced by Kagome Inc.

There’s also a possibility you’ve tasted something made in Los Banos.

Kagome, located on Johnson Road, employs 150 people who produce salsas, pasta sauces, ketchup, barbecue and Mexican sauces, among other items.

Today, heavy equipment and trucks sit fenced off at the Kagome plant, capable of producing products around the clock for the nation’s biggest fast-food chains. The company makes products for Domino’s pizza, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Subway, to name a few.

CEO Luis de Oliveira said people approach him regularly asking where they can buy Kagome sauces.

“I tell them we’re not in the retail market yet, but if you want to support Kagome go to Pizza Hut, go to Costco, go to Panda (Express) and never forget to ask for extra sauce,” de Oliveira said.

Dennis Brazil, Kagome’s Los Banos plant product manager, has worked with the company for 23 years. He said the business has grown through the years.

“This was all open farmland. I used to travel by here many times and see the facility starting from the ground up,” said Brazil. “It started as a beverage company and it transformed into tomato products.”

Kagome was founded in Japan in 1899. The business expanded in the 1970s, setting up an office in the Bay Area. In 1988 Kagome announced it would build a plant in Los Banos, allowing it to have products in relatively close proximity to the Oakland ports. The business also has a plant in Arkansas.

Kagome held a ceremony Monday at its Los Banos plant recognizing its 25th anniversary. Present and past Kagome official from Japan, local politicians and business leaders attended.

Kagome announced a $20,000 in scholarships will be split between Los Banos and Pacheco high schools. The schools plan to start a culinary program next fall and scholarship money will be available to students planning careers in food science or agricultural manufacturing. Kagome also gave $300 to the Pacheco High Band. Kagome’s leadership referred to the monetary donations as evidence of its commitment to the community.

Kagome’s Los Banos plant has seen recent equipment upgrades to make production more effective. The company has to maintain a two-week supply of products in its warehouse for chain restaurants.

Mayor Mike Villalta, who attended the 25th anniversary celebration, said he is grateful for the jobs the company created in Los Banos.

“I wish you another 25 years in Los Banos,” he said.

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