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Kern Ridge Growers offering organic carrots

by Rand Green | January 10, 2011
Kern Ridge Growers LLC in Arvin, CA, which grows, packs and ships carrots year-round and also offers citrus, bell peppers and chili peppers seasonally, has been packing organic carrots for several years under the "All Natural" label. “We do organic baby peeled carrots and organic cello carrots,” said Chris Smotherman, a sales representative for the company. “We have been doing it for several years now, and I think we have our product tuned in pretty well. I think the product speaks for itself. I have looked at [organic carrots from] the other major packers … and I think our product stands up well against them.”

Although “it is a small number of items that we do [organically], just being cellos and baby peeled,” the quality of the product “is high overall,” he said. “I think we are at least as good [as], if not better than, anybody in the industry.”

Kern Ridge has been doing conventional carrots “for a long time,” Mr. Smotherman continued, so “growing it organically and packing it organically is not that big of a change for us.” Most of the differences are “in the growing aspect of it,” and that is important, because “you can't put out a good product if you are not bringing in a good product from the field.” The packing requirements for the organic product in the packinghouse are “not that different from doing it conventional.”

Andrew Bianchi, sales manager at Kern Ridge, said, “We got into organics mostly to have a convenience item for our customers who required organics. It is a very small part of our program, but it is a good convenience item. Some of our customers want or require organics, so it helps us to service them.”

The two carrot products that Kern Ridge packs organically were chosen because “those are the two the retailers require,” he said.

“When we first started organics, we were growing rapidly,” Mr. Bianchi said. “Then when the economy hit the skids, [organic volume] went down for us a little bit” and has been holding steady since. “We are not increasing; we are not decreasing,” he said. Whether that changes will depend entirely on demand. “If we have increased demand, we will plant more carrots. if we don’t, we will just keep it where we are.”

The same principle applies to the question of adding more products to the organic line. “We will leave it up to the customers,” he said. “If we have more demand, we will expand [the line].”

“Our view of the organic thing is it has kind of faded in the last couple of years,” said Mr. Smotherman. “I think people have added more SKUs, but I think overall, volume is probably a little lighter than it was maybe three or four years ago, and I think that the down economy has accentuated that. People are probably less willing to spend the extra money for the organics than they were a couple of years ago.”

That said, “right now in California we are seeing a little bit more volume on [the organic carrots,” he said. “But I think that is due to other people being short because of the weather we have had lately. We have had an odd weather year,” with an inordinate amount of rain in December, that has adversely affected yields.