view current print edition




Garlic players upbeat about this year's market

by Brian Gaylord | June 16, 2010
Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing for Orlando, FL-based Spice World Inc., is upbeat about his company's garlic program.

"So far, the California crop looks nice but is a little late because of cooler- than-normal weather," Mr. Hymel told The Produce News June 11. "I believe that the market should remain strong as supplies coming from China will remain tight again this year, especially for big garlic, as they did during 2009 and the first half of 2010."

Mr. Hymel had just returned from China, where he went to assess what to expect from the Asian nation's upcoming garlic season. He said that the season "is later than normal because they, too, experienced colder-than- normal winter temperatures this past growing season."

Many domestic garlic growers have disappeared over the past 15 years for various reasons, Mr. Hymel said. Spice World is completely vertically integrated in garlic, from its seed program with full processing to consumer products.

"Over the years there have been many challenges, but our flexibility has given us longevity of 61 years," Mr. Hymel said.

Spice World was in the early stage of packing garlic grown in Baja California and was on track to begin harvesting its garlic crop in Central California in July.

Bill Christopher, a fourth-generation family member and managing partner of Gilroy, CA-based Christopher Ranch, told The Produce News June 11 that the company was just starting its garlic harvest in the San Joaquin Valley.

"We may not see large sizes, but the yield will be good," Mr. Christopher said. "It was a cooler spring than normal."

For the first time, Christopher Ranch is offering green garlic, which is garlic harvested during its growing stage. "The flavor is mild for green garlic," Mr. Christopher said, adding that it works well with stirfry dishes.

Garlic volumes coming from China have dropped considerably since its big export year in 2008, Mr. Christopher said.

"The cost of China's garlic is going up," he said. "Consumers prefer California garlic."

Christopher Ranch has increased its overall garlic acreage in California, Mr. Christopher said, and water allocations are up in the San Joaquin Valley. "We'll be done [with the California harvest] by the end of September," Mr. Christopher said.

Jeff Schwartz, vice president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc. in South Hackensack, NJ, told The Produce News June 11 that consumer demand for quality garlic remains high. Garlic has been a big growth segment for Auerbach during Mr. Schwartz' 27 years with the company, he said.

"We're seeing a steady increase in [garlic] sales and volume," Mr. Schwartz said. "Garlic's place is every place."

Auerbach's organic garlic program "continues to increase," he said. Auerbach procures garlic in season from various producing areas throughout the year. About 40 percent of Auerbach's garlic production comes from South America, followed by California (30 percent), China (20 percent) and Mexico (10 percent), Mr. Schwartz said.

Auerbach is one of the larger importers of Argentine white garlic. In addition to fresh garlic, the company sells peeled garlic, braided garlic and elephant garlic.

Auerbach distributes its garlic along the Atlantic Seaboard, as far west as Chicago and into Canada.

When economic times are difficult, people tend to eat at home more. This dynamic favors Auerbach's garlic sales, Mr. Schwartz said.

Jim Provost, president of Kelton, PA-based I Love Produce, told The Produce News June 14 that garlic is in tight supply and that there is demand for new- crop California garlic.

"For 2010 going into 2011, there's a firm market," Mr. Provost said. "There won't be an oversupply."

Based on the past year's prices, worldwide demand "has been strong," Mr. Provost said.

The company got underway with its harvesting and packing of early-variety garlic in the San Joaquin Valley the week of June 7, he said.

"If early varieties are any gauge, [the garlic crop] looks nice," Mr. Provost said. I Love Produce's garlic crop in China is in the process of transitioning from old crop to new crop, Mr. Provost said. Demand exceeds supply for China's new-crop garlic, he noted.

"The price differential is shrinking between China and California," Mr. Provost said, adding that he anticipates this price dynamic to continue over the next year.

I Love Produce has a garlic operation in the Shandong Province in central China. Recently, the Organic Trade Association had a delegation visit China for a conference. Although OTA was not there for the purpose of going to I Love Produce's operation, the delegation was invited to visit.