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Christopher Ranch seeing big numbers with organic heirloom garlic

Although Christopher Ranch is based in Gilroy, CA, the 63-year-old company has always looked to expand into more domestic markets, which is why having a distribution facility in Pompano, FL, is important.

“It gives us the ability to have a foothold in the Southeast as roughly 10 percent of our sales are currently concentrated in this area, and we’d like to continue to expand that footprint,” said Ken Christopher, a third-generation garlic farmer and executive vice president of Christopher Ranch. “Many in the South are accustomed to jarred garlic, which offers a very different flavor profile, so in offering fresh California garlic year-round to these customers, it’s our hope that more and more consumers will start to demand fresh California garlic, which is our wheelhouse.”

Leavesley-Field The company grew more than 10 million pounds of organic heirloom California garlic this past year, and it’s quickly becoming Christopher Ranch’s most exciting category.

“We’re seeing sales growth in the low double digits year after year, which is fairly uncommon in a mature industry like agriculture,” Christopher said. “Both peeled and fresh organic California garlic numbers continue to grow, and we anticipate another 10 percent increase in demand for 2019.”

Christopher admits the first three quarters of 2018 were somewhat challenging, noting Chinese shippers were illegally dumping garlic in the U.S. to the tune of tens of millions of pounds, artificially distorting the U.S. garlic market, and many wholesalers and retailers started looking at cheaper international garlic options instead of American growers.

“Thankfully, since September 2018, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has slapped a brand-new tariff (paid up front, upon arrival) on all Chinese garlic,” he said. “This has caused our sales levels to return to normal, as Chinese shippers can no longer engage in duty evasion schemes that defraud the U.S. government.”

Still, he said, in Pompano, it’s a constant battle to push back against illegal imports as they are prevalent in the state of Florida.

“Pompano is unique to many other markets in that Latin American-sourced produce is far more acceptable than just about every other major market,” Christopher said. “We’re looking to focus on marketing our first-in-class food security program as well as the fact that we have the only organic seed in the country to differentiate. At the same time, we will be getting the word out that Christopher Ranch is the only wholly family owned commercial garlic farm in the country — it’s our bet that consumers will respond positively to that.” 

Another challenge is there’s an assumption that California garlic may only be seasonal or unavailable for some markets, and Christopher wants people to know that’s simply not true.

“You have to continually engage in education with both produce buyers and end-users,” he said. “Whether through traditional or social media, we’re designing marketing campaigns to get the word out that there is an all-American solution to the Southeast’s and specifically Pompano’s garlic needs.” 

This summer, the company we will be rolling out all new packaging for its garlic items to further distinguish it from international competition.

“In the past we sourced international garlic, primarily from Spain, Mexico and Argentina for 10 percent of our Christopher Ranch branded products, but 2019 is the first year that all Christopher Ranch branded products will feature 100 percent all-American grown garlic,” Christopher said. “We’re doubling down on our faith in consumers that they will support a company like ours that makes this commitment.”