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Produce growers changing to keep up with organic demand

Nielsen’s latest data confirmed what most have known for years, organic produce is heavily on the rise. The report showed that apples increased 6.4 percent, carrots were up 3.5 percent and blueberries rose 33 percent in just the last year. The latter category was up $256 million.

Additionally, fresh-cut and prepackaged organic items were also on the upswing, with an increase of 5.3 percent to $1.1 billion in sales.Baby-eggplant

A wide belief among many in the produce industry is that as organic continues to go mainstream, this pressure to fill demand increases, and it’s one of the top priorities to stay ahead of that demand.

Customers have proven that they are willing to pay more for organic produce. However, it is still important to educate consumers, especially when it comes to price-sensitive staples, on the true, fair cost of the produce and the impact their purchases have when they choose to support small growers and value-based, sustainable options.

Brian Vertrees, director of business development – West for Salinas, CA-based Naturipe Farms, noted the organic community is a tight knit group and offer a united front in regard to promoting and helping grow the organic produce industry.

The company has a full organic program, which includes strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries.

Darrell Beyer, organic sales manager for Boskovich Farms, based in Oxnard, CA, said there’s nothing more important than education when it comes to helping consumers understand the health benefits of organically-grown produce and how much better it is for the planet. He believes, like many in the industry do, that eventually organic will be the norm and will be expected to be on the shelves.

Christina Ward, director of communications for the Santa Clarita, CA-based Sunkist Growers, has seen strong performances in organic citrus of late, citing 6 percent increases year over year.

“Organic mandarins overall have shown three consecutive seasons of double-digit growth, with two-pound bags proving to be most popular,” she said. “Organic navel and lemon sales are also strong, and we are seeing an increase in demand for specialty varieties, like our organic Cara Cara navels.”

Due to these increases, Sunkist’s growers are planting more organic acreage than ever before, concentrating on specialty varieties like Cara Cara Navel oranges, Blood oranges and mandarins.

Kern Ridge Growers, an Arvin, CA-based grower of carrots, has been moving into the organic carrot business in recent years and works hard to fulfill the organic needs of its customers. Andrew Bianchi, sales manager for the company, said it’s a segment that has grown because they want to keep its customers happy, and more are interested in organic than ever before.

Organics Unlimited, a San Diego, CA-based company that grows organic bananas and tropical fruits, regularly forecast industry trends while using its intuition to remain a global industry leader.

“As pioneers in the organic banana market, we want to capitalize on this opportunity to tell our story and share the true cost of food, educating consumers about what takes place prior to eating a banana,” said Mayra Velazquez de León, founder of the company. “We were growing organic bananas long before it became trendy. In fact, the company grows organic bananas because this natural farming method produces the tastiest banana and is the safest way to plant, care for, harvest and consume a banana.”

Anthony Vineyards, based in Bakersfield, CA, recently made a commitment to growing organic grapes and is in the process of transitioning to 100 percent organic acreage. It already has an organic variety for every grape it offers, and the company is approximately 70 percent toward its goal.

“Back in the day, when organic was first becoming more mainstream, you had to go to several suppliers depending on who had what. Now, we have a streamlined supply from the end of May through the first couple of weeks in December, which gives confidence to the buyer that you will be in the game,” said Rob Spinelli, sales manager for the company.

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