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Homegrown touts robust citrus program

By
Tim Linden

Homegrown Organic Farms boasts a full plate of California-grown, organic citrus varieties that almost takes its customer on a full year ride.

“We offer organic citrus 11 months of the year,” said Craig Morris, director of citrus and grapes for the Porterville, CA-based firm, noting that they start with organic lemons in late summer and organic grapefruit takes them through August of the following year. In between, the exclusively organic Homegrown offers a dozen citrus varieties including navels, Valencias, several varieties of mandarins and a handful of specialty citrus SKUs.

“Right now, we are in the peak of our organic citrus season with virtually every varietal going strong,” Morris said in mid-January.

He noted that performing exceptionally well during these challenging, pandemic-impacted times are the “hardware varieties — lemons, navels, grapefruit and mandarins.” He said the specialty citrus is a bit more challenging as demand has lagged recently. However, Morris quickly added that sales “are not poor by any means, it’s just that compared to the hardware items, they aren’t doing as well. This season the hardware items are carrying the load with solid pricing and strong markets.”

Morris is not sure why that situation is occurring this season as specialty citrus has been a solid driver in the citrus category for the past several years. “I wish I could tell you,” he said, speculating that it may relate to the general perception that organic produce is good for you and healthier than its conventional counterpart. “That may be a factor. I can tell you that we have had a big boost in new business.”

He added that the organic citrus category has been on a nice run of increased sales for quite some time. “Since 2012, we have increased our citrus production 300 percent as we went through a large growth phase, strategically increasing our acreage across the board.”

Morris said those eight years of increased plantings are leading to steady increase in production, and the farming company continues to bring new organic acreage into production to the tune of about a 10 percent increase each year. While Homegrown has increased acreage of all its varieties, Morris said the easy peel mandarin varieties have led the charge. He said during this COVID-19 year, the biggest citrus surprise has been grapefruit, which has seen off-the-charts demand. U.S. per capita consumption of grapefruit has been declining for a generation, but it has always been touted for its health benefits, which probably had an impact on demand over the past 10 months.

Though the coronavirus is still raging on, Morris said retail buying habits are beginning to return to a more normal pattern. “Typically, everything is programmed but this past year there has been so much uncertainty that a lot of buyers were only purchasing what they knew they could sell,” he said.

Going forward, Morris expects continued growth of organic produce. While more affluent areas with a younger demographic have fueled past growth, he said there are sales increases in every corner of the country, even in rural areas. Because millennials are aging and starting to have children of their own, Morris believes the organic category has a lot more growth ahead of it.

While Homegrown’s fruit spotlight is currently on organic citrus, Morris said the company is also offering locally grown kiwifruit for the first time and its California blueberry season is right around the corner. That will be followed in the spring by the start of the stone fruit season. The company is in its 23rd year as a reliable supplier of organic fruits with many different fruits to sell on a year-round basis.

 

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