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Homegrown Organic sees growth in organic citrus

By
Keith Loria

Homegrown Organic Farms has been growing and marketing certified organic produce since 1998, and grows more than 60 percent of its own products.

“Citrus is our largest category, and we also have a very substantial stone fruit and fall fruit program with blueberries as well as grapes,” said Craig Morris, citrus category director for the Porterville, CA-based company. “Right now, we offer citrus year-round, but we define the season starting with the desert harvest with lemons, shortly followed by navels, and shortly after that clementines, grapefruit, blood oranges and the wave.”

That means the bulk of the season is October through May or June. The recent fall citrus crops in 2020 are overall down about 20 percent.

“Being organic, of all the items we grow, the most difficult items we have as far as setting a crop is citrus, and that’s because we are unable to use synthetic nitrogen,” Morris said. “We have to use natural methods and means. We do it intensively, but even with all the money we spend, it’s difficult to set that crop.”

While the company faces some of the same challenges most in the industry are because of the coronavirus pandemic, it hasn’t hurt business too much.

“We’re about 70 percent direct-to-retail, so we are positioned correctly for the demand during this COVID-19 period,” Morris said.

Plus, the feeding frenzy that came about when the pandemic started added to the demand of its products, and it’s been a strong selling environment throughout 2020.

Citrus has sold well — but that’s nothing new. It’s an evolution that Morris has noticed grow over the last decade.

“We’ve seen an increasing demand over the years,” Morris said. “We sell a whole potpourri of citrus products and we have a lot of tenure in the organic industry, so as more mainstream retailers have started seeing a demand, we have grown with that demand.”

COVID-19 only accelerated that demand as consumers looked for organic products and fruit they considered healthier.

“I think citrus goes hand-in-hand with illness; when you have cold and flu, people tend to seek out citrus and do consider it a health and wellness option,” Morris said.

The secret to success in the category, he believes, is not cutting any corners.

“You must pay attention to detail — detail from the farming perspective, and we don’t cut any costs at all,” Morris said. “In fact, our costs are probably 25 percent more than conventional, and our overall yields are probably down 25 percent. It’s not fuzzy math. If we don’t command a premium on the backside, it doesn’t make sense fiscally to the farms.”

Homegrown Organic Farms is growing at approximately a 10 percent growth rate, and Morris has seen more than 300 percent growth over the last 10 years.

“We are very cognitive and very strategic about making sure our portfolio is well-balanced and making sure we have the right mix of oranges with the clementines and mandarins so we can create a one-stop shop for our consumers and a full-line presentation and differentiation for our customers and retailers so they can carry all the different items they need to be successful,” Morris said. “We see a lot of opportunities in the organic sector and as long as we stay in our wheelhouse of what we know well, we’re going to continue to grow with that demand.”

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