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Organic garlic just part of the mix at Christopher Ranch

by Tim Linden | January 09, 2011
Gilroy, CA-based Christopher Ranch LLC, one of the nation's larger producers and distributors of garlic, has been growing, packing and selling organic garlic since the mid-1990s. Bill Christopher, managing partner of the company, said that it is simply a case of filling the needs of the firm’s customers.

Vice President of Marketing Patsy Ross elaborated that the company began its organic production because "we started getting inquiries from our customers."

Mr. Christopher said it took several years, of course, to transition land into organic production but once the company accomplished this feat, it began offering a full complement of organic products to its customers.

The roster of items included organic bulbs, as well as organic peeled garlic and organic diced and crushed product in jars.

Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are the company’s biggest customers of the organic offerings, Mr. Christopher said, but noted that the customer list includes many conventional supermarkets as well as foodservice operators.

Most of the organic garlic used for these products is grown in California, but the company also sources organic production from both Argentina and Mexico during the two or three months of the year that California is not in production.

Ms. Ross said that the move into organic production followed the same mode of operation that Christopher Ranch has been following for its more than 50 years of business — being an innovator in the garlic industry. When the company introduced organic garlic in the 1990s, it was one of the first firms to offer that product, she asserted.

Christopher Ranch was started in 1956 by Don Christopher, Bill’s father. He began as a vegetable grower but soon added garlic to the mix as it was already a popular crop in the Gilroy area.

Soon thereafter, however, he discovered that the money was in the marketing of the product, not in the growing of it, and so Christopher Ranch increased its production and got into the packing and shipping business as well.

Within a decade, garlic became the company’s top item and it has been specializing in it ever since. The firm increased its offerings throughout the years and eventually became a leading garlic producer and distributor in California and the United States. Today, Christopher Ranch produces about half of the garlic grown and sold from California.

Ms. Ross said that organic production has registered double-digit growth every year for the past several, though she acknowledged that total organic sales still make up only a small percentage of the firm’s business.