Ashley Nickle

SOUTHERN BELLE ORGANICS: Brick Rooks, owner of Bladenboro, N.C.-based Southern Belle Organics, displays the company’s blueberries. Southern Belle has about 200 acres in production currently and plans to substantially increase its acreage over the next few years. The company is also expanding to vegetables.

“We’re trying to expand into that year-round business where we can realize some synergies,” Rook said.

The demand for local produce is something he expects to be a driver for the company.

“For some retailers, to be able to put out like a regional brand, something that can relate, a smaller corporate farm but somebody who still has the volume to be able to meet your needs, that’s where our niche is at,” Rook said.

Ashley Nickle

PANDOL BROS.: John Pandol, director of special projects for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros., talks with booth visitors about the company’s organic offerings. Pandol Bros. sources organic grapes from Mexico in May and offers organic blueberries from Georgia and New Jersey from May into August. The company re-entered the organic business a few years ago.

Ashley Nickle

DOUBLE DIAMOND: Procurement and sales manager Caitlyne Johns and director of procurement and grower relations Jeremy Stockwell display organic tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and mini cucumbers from Kingsville, Ontario-based Double Diamond Farms. The company has increased its acreage on organic long English cucumbers, which will give Double Diamond a significant boost in supply.

The company also recently starting offering biodegradable packaging for all the commodities it carries.

“We’re finding that consumers that are paying for organic produce are willing to spend more money to know that the packaging that it’s packaged in is environmentally responsible as it can be,” Johns said.

Double Diamond also noted its single flow-wrapped organic bell peppers, for which the packaging extends shelf life 5-7 days.

Ashley Nickle

WISH FARMS: Marcus Caswell, senior account executive for Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, speaks with booth visitors about the company’s organic strawberries, which are currently coming from Florida and will be sourced from there into March. California supplies the fruit April through December. In Florida, Wish Farms is growing the Sweet Sensation variety, of which it planted about 40% more acreage this year because the flavor was so good, Caswell said. The company also has organic blueberries coming from Chile.

Ashley Nickle

DOMEX: Salesman Max McGuire and communications manager Catherine Gipe-Stewart display Autumn Glory apples and dark sweet cherries from Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers. The Autumn Glory season is finishing up, with organic supply going through February and conventional supply available through March. The whole crop was about 200,000 boxes, with 15-20% organic. Domex has been pleased with the season.

“We’ve had an excellent year,” Gipe-Stewart said. “We just broke top 20 IRI data for November, so we were No. 18 for Autumn Glory, and that’s for both conventional and organic, but organic continues to grow in that and be a high-demand item.”

Looking ahead, Domex was speaking with booth visitors about its organic large cherries, with dark sweets and rainiers to be available.

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WESTMORELAND: Tony Cappelli, account manager for Leamington, Ontario-based Westmoreland, talks with booth visitors about the upcoming greenhouse vegetable season. Canadian production on cucumbers and mini cucumbers gets underway the first week of February, and tomatoes start the first week of March. Westmoreland, which also markets under the TopLine Farms brand, also sources product from Mexico.

“We’ve grown a lot in organics,” Cappelli said. “Every year seems to be getting bigger and bigger. This is our third season, and I’ve got to give my growers a pat on the back because they’re doing a great job.”

A big project for the company this year will be deciding what will replace the foam tray, Cappelli said. Westmoreland currently offers a fiber option but will be considering numerous others and conducting testing before presenting alternatives to customers for approval.

Ashley Nickle

CHELAN FRESH: Organic sales manager Kevin Stennes and director of marketing Mac Riggan show off the new Cascade Crest Organic bags for Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh. Riggan explained the company designed the bags to quickly and clearly communicate as much important information as possible.

“We’re hoping our bags tell people how much they’re buying, what they’re buying, where it came from, what it is and maybe how to use it,” Riggan said, mentioning pieces of information present on the top segment of the bags. “Those are five things we think people really value, so we don’t make them work too hard to figure that out. It needs to be really clear.”

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MUCCI: Stephen Cowan, account manager for Kingsville, Ontario-based Mucci Farms, shows new pre-printed packaging for the company’s products. Mucci is switching away from stickered packages, and the transition is expected to be complete in a month or two.

“There’s no margin for error there, it’s just showcasing the Mucci Farms brand and there’s a lot more you can do on the package versus applying another sticker over it,” Cowan said.

The lineup from Mucci includes tomatoes, cucumbers and specialty peppers.

“Organics is a growing category for everybody, it’s a growing category for us, so we just want to get ahead of the trend, get new snacking items and new items and new packages to set ourselves apart,” Cowan said.

Ashley Nickle

OPPY: Rachel Mehdi, organic category manager and sales representative for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, displays a package of organic Envy apples. Oppy was also featuring Pacific Rose apples.

“There’s a lot of growth in these two varieties,” Mehdi said. “We also have the Jazz, but we’re sold out of that, so that’s the other variety that goes with these (two) from Enza.

“There’s tremendous growth, last year versus this year, so we were able to extend the season a little bit longer than we normally do,” Mehdi said. “Typically we’re sold out of these at the end of December, beginning of January, and right now we’ll go through mid-February on the Envy and easily into mid-March on the Pacific Rose.”

Oppy was also promoting organic kiwifruit from New Zealand and Italy, organic mangoes from Ecuador and Peru, and organic bell peppers, cucumbers and mini sweet peppers from greenhouses in Mexico.

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WELL-PICT: Well-Pict Berries director of marketing Jim Grabowski and Marketing Plus accounts manager Johnna Johnson show off the company’s organic strawberries. The fruit is being sourced from Oxnard, Calif., which will continue until about mid-May before a transition to Santa Maria, Calif. Well-Pict will also have organic raspberries between May and October from Watsonville, Calif., where the company is headquartered.