The success of San Diego-based Organics Unlimited Inc. may not be due solely to the quality of the tropical fruit it grows and imports from Mexico and South America.
Some credit must go to the sustainability program the company launched in 2005, a program targeting not the fruit and fields, but the workers and their families. In Mexico, the program is based near the banana plantations in the state of Colima on the west coast of mainland Mexico.
The Giving Resources and Opportunities to Workers, or GROW, foundation provides educational and medical assistance to Organics Unlimited’s employees, their families and to the communities in which they live.
That the GROW program has been warmly received is evidenced by the company’s stable workforce, said Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president and chief executive officer of Organics Unlimited.
“We don’t have turnover,” she said. “In fact, we have a waiting list of people who want to go to work for us.”
Organics Unlimited applies a 60-cent surcharge to each carton of bananas. The company, which shoulders the accounting and administrative expenses, forwards the surcharge to the GROW foundation. The company no longer keeps track of the out-of-pocket costs.
“We did at one point, but we don’t do it any longer,” Velazquez de Leon said. “We’re all committed to the GROW program.”
Project Amigo, a third-party nonprofit organization, oversees the GROW program to ensure funds are spent properly, she said. Students as young as junior high school age apply for GROW scholarships. Recipients are chosen based on their potential and the families’ financial need.
The scholarships help provide books, uniforms, school supplies and tutoring, Velazquez de Leon said. In return, students must continue to perform well in school and must engage in community service projects.
There are more than a dozen junior high school and high school students on GROW scholarships this academic year, she said. In addition, there are 13 GROW students at the University of Colima.
The success in Mexico has spurred Organics Unlimited to expand the program to Ecuador.
“We can see the difference it (GROW) is making and we’re proud of it,” she said. “We see the results firsthand, because this is not a global organization.”
More information on the GROW foundation is available on the Organics Unlimited website. The information, however, is not designed to generate more sales of fruit, Velazquez de Leon said.
“We don’t look at GROW as a marketing tool or a marketing opportunity,” she said.