Soon to follow in the early 1980s were visits to growers in South America and Central America — and a major career change for Posner.
“It became too much to do the route and to source offshore fruit,” he said.
By 1985, Posner’s passion spurred him to sell his truck and route to Earl Herrick, longtime friend and founder-owner of Earl’s Organics Produce, San Francisco, and to found Farmers’ Fruit Express Inc., the original name of Awe Sum Organics.
“We’ve shared the passion for organic produce for more than three decades,” Herrick said.
“We’ve bought from and sold to one another for years. We started back in our long-hair days — well, back when we had hair.”
Today, Awe Sum Organics imports to the U.S. coasts annually nearly 1,000 containers of organic apples, pears, kiwifruit, mangoes, cherries and blueberries, Posner said.
It is North America’s largest importer of organic apples and kiwifruit from New Zealand, he said. But he stops short of calling Awe Sum a fruit broker.
“I’m really a grower sales agent,” Posner said.
Equal to his passion for fresh produce is his concern for the growers who supply Awe Sum. As the organic produce markets have matured in Europe and Asia, Posner has found himself playing the role of a consultant to his growers.
“It’s a balancing act. I’m trying to just take what I need to serve my customers,” Posner said.
“I want to make sure they have what they need for their other markets. I’m trying to position my growers so that they get the best returns for their crops.”
The positioning includes starting or wrapping up the import seasons as domestic production ends or begins.
A new dimension of the balancing act in recent years is the global recession. No longer can organic growers anticipate annual sales increases of 20% to 30%, Posner said.
“Consumption of organic fruit, as far as I know, isn’t down, but the growth isn’t there,” he said.
The struggling economy forces some shoppers to buy whatever is the cheapest, or even to forego fresh fruits and vegetables, Posner said.
“To a person of an organic mindset, fresh produce is essential to health. It’s not a luxury,” he said.
Posner has cautioned his growers that the premium between conventional and organic is probably going to go down, and that the price of conventional could go down, too.
Though Awe Sum’s relationships with its growers often date back years, Posner takes nothing for granted.
“I know the fruit we import is organic, because I visit every year,” he said. “I go to the fields. I meet with the growers and the workers, so I know how they operate.”