Business & Real Estate

West Sacramento setting the table as a major food industry hub

Like other cities that share a name with a larger urban neighbor, West Sacramento sometimes struggles to assert an identity separate from its neighbor to the east.

West Sacramento officials are quick to note that the Sacramento River Cats baseball team plays its home games on West Sacramento turf, and that the Port of West Sacramento is the official name of the local trade/commerce waterway.

But while Sacramento has made hay with its ambitions as America’s “Farm-to-Fork” capital, West Sacramento can rightfully make a claim as the region’s food industry hub. Past history and recent events make the point.

West Sacramento has been the long-standing home of numerous businesses in the food and beverage industries. That list includes Raley’s, Nor-Cal Beverage Co. and Tony’s Fine Foods. And in the past year alone, a parade of food industry firms with an international reach has taken up residence or expanded in West Sacramento.

“It has been an evolution … part of the city’s legacy as an industrial hub,” said West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. “The moving of food, manufacturing, distribution and research and safety, right down to the farmer in the field. We have the potential to connect with the rest of the world. … We’re shipping product worldwide.”

That group of recent arrivals includes Germany-based agrochemical company Bayer CropScience, which announced in July that is was moving its U.S.-based research and development operations for vegetable seed and crop-protection products into an existing 164,000-square-foot facility in West Sacramento. The move into the former Affymetrix Inc. plant on nearly 10 acres of land ultimately could result in the employment of 300.

In August, TOMRA Sorting Solutions, the Norwegian conglomerate, began construction on a 60,000-square-foot complex for sorting and peeling equipment in the Riverside Commerce Center, an industrial park on Embarcadero Drive near Interstate 80.

TOMRA says its equipment processes most of the world’s French fries. The new facility is expected serve large agricultural customers, including ConAgra and Monsanto, both of which have operations in Yolo County. The facility ultimately could employ about 70.

Also in August, Nippon Shokken USA Inc. opened its new 70,000-square-foot U.S. headquarters in the West Sacramento’s Southport Business Park. Nippon Shokken, which bills itself as the world’s top producer of Japanese blend seasonings, says the West Sacramento site houses production and sales operations, but officials look forward to expanding and employing up to 400. During a recent business tour of the facility, Nippon Shokken USA CEO Seigo Horiuchi said the West Sacramento facility produces seasonings mostly for commercial operations but is anxious to expand into making more consumer products.

Nippon Shokken will soon have a new neighbor from its homeland. Shinmei Co. Ltd., one of Japan’s largest rice millers and distributors, is building a $10 million, 28,000-square-foot U.S. headquarters and production plant on six acres in Southport Business Park. By summer, Shinmei anticipates an initial work force of 100 but said that number could ultimately swell up to 500.

The new facility will produce Shinmei’s “Rice Bun,” a rice product marketed as a gluten-free alternative to traditional burger buns. The product already is sold in markets worldwide, including Australia, China and Singapore. Rice Buns can be made from brown or white rice and produced in multiple flavors.

West Sacramento officials and food company executives in the city cite a litany of factors that make West Sacramento a desirable landing spot: willing regional development leaders, acres of open land, an abundant water supply, proximity to land/water/air transportation, a close neighbor of UC Davis and its wealth of international ag expertise and research, a sizable regional work force and, most significantly, a geographical location amid California’s massive, diverse agriculture industry.

“It’s an ideal situation,” said Martin Tuttle, city manager of West Sacramento.

It’s a situation that has been touted by the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, which has helped West Sacramento land global food companies.

Barbara Hayes, president and CEO of SACTO, said that while West Sacramento has benefited, “we sell the whole region as a food hub. … You look at the package West Sacramento has to offer, it’s impressive. But we also look at things on a site-by-site basis across the region. Sometimes, it’s truly driven by what (a) company’s needs are.”

Mayor Cabaldon, while talking up his city, agrees that West Sacramento’s continued emergence as a food hub is one part of a chain encompassing a wide region spreading out from Sacramento’s core.

“Where we sit, between Yolo County and its rich agricultural history and next to an urban center with its consumption market and then adding in UCD and its research capacities, it’s an enormous benefit to the entire region,” Cabaldon said.

Cabaldon said the recent flurry of international food industry companies coming to West Sacramento has made it easier to sell his city as a desirable destination. Cultural factors also have helped.

During last October’s West Sacramento City Hall festivities welcoming Shinmei to the community – a Japanese sake ceremony was part of the program – Shinmei officials repeatedly referred to Nippon Shokken as a “neighbor” that can supply spices for Shinmei products.

“With Nippon Shokken already there, it is an advantage to have a neighbor that speaks Japanese,” Cabaldon said. “That certainly is part of it.”

Shinmei also stressed that it wants to draw rice for its “Rice Bun” product from a wide range of growers in the Sacramento region.

“Our goal is to build relationships with the agricultural sector by collaborating with local rice farmers, integrating our ‘Rice Bun’ product into the U.S. market and streamlining our entire process from beginning to end,” said Mitsuzo Fujio, president of Shinmei USA Corp.

Tuttle, West Sacramento’s city manager, even pointed to the phenomenon of America’s growing “foodie culture” as a plus. As for the long-term viability of the food industry, Tuttle said: “People will always need to eat.”