Starr Ranch Growers looking forward to fall
The 2020 growing season is unlike any other for Starr Ranch Growers, now only because of the impact of COVID-19 on the market, but also in the continued expansion of the company’s sales and marketing operations and varietal offerings.
The Juici apple variety, for example, is growing in importance, said Dan Davis, director of business development.
“An exclusive to us, it has been a great success, a truly different eating experience,” Davis said. “This year we’ll have our first organic offering of Juici now that blocks have matured and gone through the transition to organic. We’ll be able to hit the ground running in October and provide volume nationwide this season. Our Cosmic Crisp blocks are also maturing and increasing in volume. That will aid in the full service aspect that we provide across the Starr Ranch family.”
The company’s organic apple program is growing, driven by year-round supply from both hemispheres. Davis projects the company will sell more than 2 million boxes, representing 12 percent of its overall apple volume.
Honeycrisp remains the company’s No. 1 variety by volume and importance. Davis said Honeycrisp is one of his favorite eating apples followed by Koru and Juici.
This year is also different in the way the marketplace has been impacted by the pandemic.
“We’re seeing much more of a drive to fixed weight packaging,” Davis said. “Whether that is in pouch bags or some of our new corrugated options, the consumer preference in a COVID-19 world is driving us toward more packaged options rather than bulk displays.”
To help retail partners sell more apples, Starr Ranch is offering new merchandising materials including display bins.
“Our hope is that we’ll be able to employ them fully this year, but social distancing requirements at the moment are making it quite difficult,” Davis said. “With the need for social distancing, building additional displays, such as endcaps is now a dicey proposition.”
This season new COVID-19 protocols required the company to add more hours of run time to the production day. Second and third shifts were added to compensate for the decreased production due to worker spacing concerns.
“We’ve done everything we can to protect our greatest asset, our employees, while still responding to the needs of the market,” Davis said
This fall Starr Ranch Growers will be using a new, state-of-the-art line at its packing facility in Quincy, WA.
“We’ll be able to examine internal quality to a level we haven’t had before,” Davis said. “The line was built with the flexibility to put 70 percent of the throughput into a consumer package without compromising the speed and accuracy of packing. With the drive toward packaged product during this COVID-19 era, it comes at a perfect time to meet market demands.”
Also on the packaging front, Starr Ranch Growers is trialing several sustainable packages and moving into various phases of roll-out including corrugated options for fixed weight packaging.
Starr Ranch Growers is always working on sensible solutions across its operations, Davis said, all part of a long sustainability journey.
“Sustainability will always be a work-in-progress, but we’re committed to doing our best for the environment over the long haul,” he said.
In March, the company announced a partnership with the Emoji brand for officially licensed apples, pears and cherries. Emoji was featured on many of the company’s conventional apples this season.
“We really look forward to the fall season because the harvest gives us another chance, another season that begins with the most optimism possible,” Davis said. “With all that has passed these last few months we’re ready for that reset and the next opportunity to shine with consumers.”