B.C. Tree Fruits bites into apple debate

Comments made by former employee Jeff Bryde is apparently leading to 'confusion' and 'misunderstanding' and cast doubt on the B.C. Tree Fruits brand.

Those were the words of B.C. Tree Fruits Chief Executive Officer, Gary Schieck, at a news conference Friday morning to refute certain allegations made by former fork-lift operator Jeff Bryde.

Bryde held a five day hunger strike in front of the B.C. Tree Fruits office on Water Street a week ago, after he was suspended for questioning the business practices of the tree fruit cooperative.

He was fired Monday.

Mohamed Doma, a labour consultant contracted to B.C. Tree Fruits did acknowledge some of the things Bryde alleged are, in fact true, but added there is context to it, something he and Schieck attempted to provide Friday.

"He's (Bryde) caused lots of confusion and he is misinformed about the business. What we do with regards to U.S. fruit, how big of a component it is," says Bryde.

"It's not exactly what he said it's the confusion that he's caused, that's the issue. Whatever the motivation, this ultimately harms our growers, our employees and our communities in the midst of the most challenging times of this industry."

One of Bryde's assertions was seeing Washington State apples sold on local store shelves, a practice Schieck does not deny.

"B.C. Tree Fruits does from time to time purchase U.S. fruits for sale in Canada but, we only do this when there are shortages of our product. This only represents one to two per cent of our business."

Schieck says the practice is done only when the 800 growers which make up the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative can't meet the demand.

He says customers will purchase elsewhere if the demand can't be met.

"Our customers don't want just apples, they want a specific variety, a specific grade and they want a specific size," adds Schieck.

Sometimes, especially at the beginning of the year, we can't pack everything all at once. We have certain logistical constraints and availability so, from time to time, we will do that."

Schieck and Doma also refuted allegations the company places its brand sticker on products not grown in B.C., despite the face Bryde never made those allegations.

"He has caused the confusion whether he said it or not by bringing up the issue," says Doma.

"There is confusion and we are getting information that customers and consumers are getting the process confused."

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