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Kern Ridge Growers' facility does double duty for carrots, Navels

by Rand Green | March 01, 2010
ARVIN, CA -- Kern Ridge Growers LLC in Arvin, CA, has been in the carrot growing, packing and marketing business since 1973 and processes "well over 100 million pounds of carrots a year," consisting of both conventionally grown and organic product, according to General Manager Bob Giragosian, one of the company's owners.

Kern Ridge was already operating two carrot-packing plants in the southern San Joaquin Valley -- one in Arvin and one in nearby Lamont -- when it acquired a third plant in the DiGiorgio area outside of Arvin in 2007. With the acquisition of that facility, Kern Ridge not only expanded its carrot operations but also got into the orange-packing business. One side of the DiGiorgio facility houses a processing and packing operation for peeled baby-cut carrots, while the other side houses a Navel orange packingline.

"We opened the citrus plant in February of 2008," Mr. Giragosian said. The carrot processing portion, which as a fresh-cut processing operation designed to comply with all of the necessary sanitation protocols to assure food safety, opened the following June.

Kern Ridge packs its Navels, which are all grown in the San Joaquin Valley, under the "Sunkist" label, and the product is marketed by Sherman Oaks, CA- based Sunkist Growers Inc.

Why Sunkist? "We are a small packer, and Sunkist is a family of small packers," Mr. Giragosian said. "The independent orange packers for the most part are very, very large, and by being with Sunkist, it allows us to compete on that scale, so that we can now service the major chainstores in the country. Without Sunkist, we wouldn't be able to do that."

Oranges are brought from the groves to the packinghouse in field bins. A bin dump system rolls the oranges onto a conveyor, which passes through black light room to eliminate any problem fruit. The oranges then continue into a washer, waxer and drier, and then onto grading tables and passed through an electronic sizer. Once the fruit has been washed, waxed, graded and sized, it either goes directly to the packingline or it is placed in bins that go into cold storage "so that we can pack to order ... when the customers want them," said Mr. Giragosian. "And customers want them in all different styles."

For example, a customer may want a 72-size fancy orange, and the customer might want that orange packed "in a three-pound bag, a four-pound bat, a five-, six-, eight- or 10-pound bag. Or they might want it in boxes, anywhere from a 10-pound box all the way to roughly a 40-pound box," he said. " So once we have got them washed and waxed, we will stage them ... to pack for individual orders for individual customers. It gives us a lot of flexibility to service the customers."

Kern Ridge packs Navels in the facility from about mid-October through mid-June, according to Mr. Giragosian. This year's Navel crop has been "excellent," he said. It has "excellent quality, it eats good, it holds up good, it has nice aesthetics," and the sizing has been good. Markets have been "not great" but "reasonably good" and "consistent throughout the season," and the condition of the fruit has been such that "so far these oranges are being shipped all over the world with virtually no problems."

On the carrot side, Kern Ridge specializes in whole fresh carrots and baby- cut peeled carrots. The whole fresh carrots consist of cello carrots, table carrots and jumbo carrots, available in a variety of pack sizes up to 50 pounds. That product, both conventional and organic, is packed at the company's Arvin and Lamont facilities, which also do pre-cuts for the baby- cut peeled carrots.

The cut-and-peeled carrots are available in an assortment of sizes ranging from snack-sized one-ounce bags up to 50-pound bags.

"We do private label along with our own labels," he said.

According to the company's web site, the labels include "Kern Ridge," "Morn 'n Fresh," "Nature's Gold" and "Gold 'n Crisp" as well as "Gold 'n Cuts" and "Peeled Delight" for the peeled carrots and "All Natural" for organic carrots.

Kern Ridge grows its carrots in Kern County in the southern San Joaquin Valley and also in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Imperial counties and the Lancaster area of Los Angeles County. "All of our product is grown in the state of California," Mr. Giragosian said.

The company focuses primarily on mid-sized retail chains with "anywhere from five stores to 200 stores" and also does "a lot of wholesale business within the major cities throughout the country, Mr. Giragosian said. "We do a lot of business in Los Angeles" but also in such cities as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.

In addition, Kern Ridge ships its carrots to export markets from Canada to Mexico to Dubai.

The company also packs Bell peppers and chili peppers seasonally in June and July.