Organic citrus continues to prosper at Homegrown Organic Farms
Craig Morris, citrus category director for Homegrown Organic Farms, is quick to reference the company philosophy when discussing the importance of organics to the Porterville, CA-based company — “For us, sustainability runs deep and wide.”
“It represents everything about our company,” he continued. “We are 100 percent organic and don’t do anything conventional. We are all in on organics so it’s extremely important. Our success has been a combination of dedication, an incredible amount of work and a concentrated focus on organics.”
Homegrown Organic Farms has been growing and marketing certified organic produce since 1998 and today represents more than 80 different growers with a total of more than 4,000 acres of organic farming.
“I like to think of us as a three-legged stool. Citrus is the largest of our categories, blueberries is second and stone fruit and the grape categories are third,” Morris said. “We are now a 52-week supplier of organic fruit crops to the industry.”
Being heavy on direct to retail clients, Homegrown Organic Farms’ focus has been on marketing to this segment and listening to what their needs are.
“We’re hearing that people want more,” Morris said. “We have done a lot of expansion as far as offerings go. We really have expanded our offerings in the mode of how do we grow more so we can satisfy the increasing demand for these products.”
In 2017, business for the company was strong, but Morris admits that every season had its challenges.
“The dollars were strong, but our biggest issue concerned yield,” he said. “We are unable to use synthetic fertilizers in the form or nitrogen in critical times so it’s difficult for us to set crops. Just setting a consistent, good crop annually is one of our biggest hurdles.”
In 2018, Homegrown Organic Farms has new acreage that’s been in transition that will be coming into organic in the early part of the year.
“We planted an additional acreage of various varietals,” Morris said. “Our program is very mature compared to many in the industry because of our tenure and dedication to growth. We have over 12 varietals now and will have more of what we have. I don’t see anything developing as new, but we will be growing more.”
That’s especially true for some of the categories that have seen a bump in sales over the last year or two — lemons, grapefruit and mandarins. Morris projects all three produce items will continue to see large growth as far as percentages go.
“The demand for organic citrus is growing and it’s caught the eye of the mainstream shopper and national retailer,” he said. “Now, there’s multiple organic shows across the country, when there used to be just one or two old-school organic shows. That is making a difference in the produce industry as the word ‘organic’ is very exciting.”
Retailers, Morris shared, can always do more to grow the category. His tips for increased sales include using a three-pound organic bag instead of a five-pound so margins aren’t so large, and to be realistic and conservative in margins.
“Those who have gotten more aggressive with tighter margins have done better,” he said. “Retailers should also be focused and diligent on offerings and stay in the organic market from start to finish.”
Homegrown Organic Farms runs an internal program called “Committed to Caring,” which offers a digital magazine and tells the stories about the land it uses and the people who farm it.
“It’s a really cool publication and looks at everyone who comes into contact with the Homegrown Organic brand.”