The development of indoor agriculture for growing basil and other herbs was part of the process Shenandoah Growers Inc. went through when it switched to a 100% organic operation in 2018, says Steve Wright, chief customer officer. ( Courtesy Shenandoah Growers Inc )

Seven years ago, when Steve Wright signed on with Shenandoah Growers Inc., a Rockingham, Va.-based herb grower, about 20% of the company’s products were organically grown and 80% were conventional.

Within a couple of years, volume of organic items doubled.

“We saw a strong migration of big retailers switching to organic,” said Wright, the company’s chief customer officer. “It was clear that the trend was there.

“We could either watch it and kind of go along with it or be super proactive and say we’re flipping the entire company to organic.”

The company chose the latter and, in 2018, decided to grow, pack, and market only organic herbs. 

It was a risky move and an expensive one.

“We had to enhance our supply chain, which involved the creation of deeper supplier relationships and the development of indoor agriculture,” Wright said.

“Processwise, we had to find ways to take costs out of the system and be more efficient in everything we do.”

The company benefited from the natural synergies of not having to carry duplicate inventories on herbs, labels, packaging and the like, he said.

“The established intent was to provide our customers and consumers with organic herbs at the same price as conventional,” Wright said.

“Our goal is democratic organics,” he added. “Eating healthy and eating clean shouldn’t necessarily come at a higher price.”

Wright said he is not aware of anyone else in the industry who has made such a dramatic business change.

“It did not occur without some pain and learnings, but strategically, we believe we made the right choice for our partners and the consumer,” he said.

At the retail level, it’s really not an option for produce departments to carry both a conventional and organic line because of the “lower velocity of the herb category,” he said.

Consequently, retail customers have been pressing Shenandoah Growers to develop greater organic capabilities to make their herb sets 100% organic, Wright said.

“We know for a fact that if the retail price is the same, consumers, if given the choice, will unequivocally choose organic over conventional,” he said. 

“They want a healthier and sustainable option for their families.” 

 

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