Bay Area firm keeps tabs on organics

04/26/2012 02:31:00 PM
Jim Offner

Earl’s Organic Produce owner Earl Herrick keeps a finger on the pulse the food industry in California’s Bay Area.

San Francisco, where the distributor is based, is an organic produce hotbed, Herrick said.

“It’s a very mature market here, as we know, and every mom-and-pop corner shop here has organic,” he said.

Corner markets carry organics because restaurants have it, and vice-versa, Herrick said.

The result is steady growth in the category, Herrick said.

“That’s what keeps the ball rolling, keeping it in the public eye,” Herrick said. “You go one place or another place and notice they have another organic item.”

Over the airwaves

Herrick says he does all he can to keep the momentum going. He has his own weekly regular radio spot designed to update listeners on the latest in organic produce.

He does a one- or two-minute segment called “Voice of the Market,” which airs not only on a local station but also can be heard up and down the West Coast and in markets as far away as Bel Air, Md.

“Sometimes I report right from a farm. Other times, I’m calling from the market and talking about what’s in season or there’s a particular item or category they want to deal with and I talk about the produce point of view,” Herrick said.

“I talk about what’s eating good and what to expect.”

The segment is part of a show called “An Organic Conversation,” which launched in 2009 as a forum to address “environmental and social challenges, healthy living and sustainable choices,” according to the show’s website.

The show, hosted by organic food advocate Helge Hellberg, produce expert Mark Mulcahy and chef Sitarani Palomar, focuses on food and organic agriculture topics in a social context.

Herrick said he didn’t know what value the radio broadcasts had for his business, but that’s beside the point.

“My position is we’re part of the food culture, and I’m trying to maintain relevancy by being part of the conversation in the local food culture,” he said.

“If I’m out there having a conversation about foods and what we do and what is in season, I become relevant.”

Events

It’s also not the only way Herrick’s company gets involved in the community. Earl’s Organic Produce works with local institutions and events, as well.

One example, Herrick said, is work the company does with Bauman College, a culinary school in Santa Cruz, Calif.

“We’ve created a tour for their faculty and students to come down and understand this part of the food chain,” Herrick said.

Earl’s hosted its first tour in early April.

“Being the only fully organic warehouse on the (San Francisco Wholesale Produce) Market, we get to enjoy that stature that comes with it,” he said.

More recently, Earl’s served as a co-sponsor of San Francisco’s Earth Day celebration April 22 at the Civic Center.

Earl’s also has a presence at an annual open house at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, providing food samples and displays.

“We’re doing more and more that kind of stuff,” Herrick said.

Social media scene

The company reaches the community through the Internet, as well.

The company hired Susan Simitz as its marketing director in August in an effort to build its social media presence, Herrick said.

“A lot of that is Susan being out there, getting connected to other people,” he said.

“Food is so relevant in San Francisco. It’s integrated in almost everything that happens.”

Earl’s wants to be there, whatever happens, Simitz said.

“It’s really engaging everybody, and not just our customers,” she said.

Social media is a growing part of the effort, Simitz added.

“It can’t be neglected. Everybody is starting to have a hand in it,” she said.

The effort is paying off, especially on the company’s Facebook page, Simitz said.

“The last four months, we’ve more than doubled the number of people who ‘like’ our Facebook page,” she said.

The company’s website, www.earlsorganic.com, has evolved, too, and now features links to partner agencies and associations, as well as weather information, Herrick said.

“We’re seeing more and more our website as an opportunity to tell our story and the story of the products we use and our attempts to do that become a real educational instrument tool,” he said.



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