Charles Sweat, Earthbound Farm

10/26/2012 02:09:00 PM
Mike Hornick

It’s been a big year for Earthbound Farm chief executive officer Charles Sweat, who’s overseen the creation of new divisions — for fresh fruit and frozen fruits and vegetables — at the organic grower-shipper.

The San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based company continues to enjoy double-digit sales growth annually. They’re not just about leafy greens. New organic products are continually in development — as are new markets.

Courtesy Earthbound FarmsCharles Sweat, Earthbound FarmsOf those, Earthbound Farm has its sights set on the biggest — China.

In September, Sweat met with regulators in Beijing to push reconciliation of differences between Chinese and U.S. organic standards. He visited four Chinese cities, meeting potential customers and distributors and doing retail store checks.

“We’re working to become the first certified organic fruit and vegetable company to ship into the People’s Republic of China,” Sweat said. “I’m hopeful we’ll be approved by the first half of 2013.”

Earthbound Farm already does business in several Asian nations, primarily in salads, fresh vegetables and dried fruit. It plans to add frozen organic — a $15 million category for the company in 2013, if projections hold — and even beverages to that export mix.

“We’re looking to launch an organic fruit and vegetable beverage in the first quarter of 2013,” Sweat said. “It’s been in research and development for about 12 months.”

The company backs its increasing commitments with added acreage.

In 1998 — when Sweat joined Earthbound Farm as chief financial officer — the grower-shipper fielded about 2,500 crop acres. In 2013 it’ll be around 50,000, he said.

“We’re really focused on developing more organic healthy products for people across a broader food and beverage offering at prices that are reasonable,” Sweat said. “We have this view at Earthbound that we’d like to democratize organic so that it’s not such a high premium to enjoy it.”

The price premium on organic fruit over conventional is up to 40%, according to the company. It was about the same for packaged salads a decade or so ago, but now that’s down to roughly 10%.

“Our goal is to take organic production and scale it to be able to reduce the costs associated with smaller organic operations and be able to reach a broader swath of consumers,” Sweat said. “There has to be a major emphasis on increasing the organic land base. On the manufacturing side, it’s just applying new technology to packaging and other processes to be more efficient.”


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