Buyers seek organic, sustainable options

05/03/2013 11:14:00 AM
Tom Burfield

Growers of California’s desert produce continue to expand organic programs and to comply with buyer requests for sustainably grown fruits and vegetables.

Five Crowns Marketing in Brawley, Calif., offers organic cantaloupes grown in the Imperial Valley during May, said Daren Van Dyke, director of sales and marketing.

Although most of the company’s products are conventionally grown, he said the organic category is expanding as retailers add at least some organic items to their conventional lines.

“It’s not steamrolling, but it continues to pick up interest,” he said.

As the category expands, though, profit margins on organics are shrinking, said Jon Vessey, owner and president of Vessey & Co. Inc., Holtville, Calif.

As long as the demand is there, however, the company wants to grow with the category, he said. Vessey already has a winter organic program and plans to grow some organic squash, tomatoes, eggplant and watermelons next spring.

Bakersfield, Calif.-based Anthony Vineyards offers more organic table grapes every year, said Bob Bianco, co-owner.

“Our company eventually will probably be 40% organic,” he said. “That’s what we’re striving for.”

Demand exists for red, green and black grapes, he said.

Drake Larson, owner of Drake Larson Sales, Thermal, Calif., plants only a small section of organic grapes so as not to produce an oversupply.

His organic customer base consists mostly of upscale retailers that are flavor oriented, he said.

Larson grows conventional and organic grapes, including flames, perlettes and its own Mariah variety — a sweet, black seedless grape that is available in June.

“Our breeding program is cranking out new varieties,” Larson said.

He expects organic grapes to start in late May.

Richard Bagdasarian Inc., Mecca, Calif., and its Pasha Marketing LLC division offer a full complement of conventional and organic table grapes; green, red and yellow bell peppers; and eggplant, and continues to ramp up its organic program, said Franz De Klotz, vice president of marketing.

“We continue to build on that customer base,” he said.

None of the organic items are grown “on spec,” De Klotz said.

“We’re doing it all to answer requests from customers,” he said.

The company is seeing more requests for organics from all of its retail customers, he said.

“For us, (organics) is working its way into being a viable part of our business.”


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