(March 6, 4:02 p.m.) In the short five years of its existence, Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif., has grown faster than even Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner, thought possible.

The company has moved beyond the multicolored carrots, cauliflower and corn for which it has become known.

“Our biggest business now is our berries,” Ranno said. “It’s one of the more substantial year-round berry programs out there, and right now we have strawberries available in Florida, California and Mexico.”

Intent on growing its berry program even more, Ranno said the company has recently entered into the organic strawberry segment and expanded its California acreage in Watsonville and Salinas over the past three years by 60%.

The increase in organic acreage will mean up to an additional 1.4 million cases a year, he said.

ONE-STOP BERRY SHOP

“We’re selling organic strawberries from all of the major regions with the exception of Mexico, and we’re testing there,” he said. “We’re also going to get into (conventional) blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. We’ll have a small amount of organic raspberries. This will give us a step up to being a one-stop shop for berries.”

Colorful Harvest is now introducing a 8-pound bulk conventional strawberry pack.

“It’s two layers of berries packed in an 8-pound bulk box with no plastic for foodservice and club stores,” he said. “You can get about 190 of these on a pallet, where with the traditional berry pack you can only get 114, so there’s a huge freight savings.”

The company is also testing a new combo clamshell of mixed strawberries and blueberries.

“More than likely we’ll start shipping these in March,” Ranno said Feb. 28. “There is about 1½ pounds of strawberries and about 6 ounces of blueberries in every clamshell.”

He said tests have been conducted with other berries, but the strawberries and blueberries have proved to be hardier.

“The first ones will probably go to retailers in Northern California,” he said. “Beyond that, we’ll ship them anywhere we can to whoever wants to pay for them.”

He said the company’s business is divided between the Green Giant Fresh and Colorful Harvest labels.

“We have uniquely colored and highly nutritional vegetable crops and some of the dark red strawberries under the Colorful Harvest label for foodservice,” he said. “Then there are the higher-volume traditional cantaloupes, honeydews and berries that we pack under the Green Giant label.”

One recent innovation still being developed is what he calls candylopes, which are green inside rather than the traditional orange. He said the company is exploring different colored watermelons, such as yellow or orange, which have higher sugar content and a minty flavor.

“We’ve had harvest trials that have worked fairly well, but there’s a lot of consumer communication that needs to be done to explain why people might want a green cantaloupe or yellow watermelon,” he said.

Ranno said when the company experiments with different colored fruits or vegetables the first priority is taste, and then they take advantage of the unique colors to give chefs and consumers more creative alternatives.

“So many people forget you need a diversity of color for your diet from fresh fruits and vegetables that help with the immune system,” he said. “And sometime people who have food allergies who can’t eat a yellow corn can eat a red corn.”

THE YOUTUBE GENERATION

The company received an unexpected boost a little over a year ago when the producer of the television show “California Country” spotted its colored corn at a local market.

“He called and said he wanted to do a show on the company,” Ranno said.

The resulting segment aired on more than 220 television stations and continues to be seen on YouTube, featuring Ranno standing in a field showing off the company’s orange cauliflower. At last count on March 3, the segment has been viewed nearly a 1,000 times.

“We were inundated with calls,” he said. “The week after it aired, we picked perhaps 17 new customers.”