Arvin, CA-based Kern Ridge Growers LLC has experienced good growth in its carrot operation over the past year for a variety of reasons, including diversity within its carrot offerings as well as the inclusion of navel oranges as a companion shipping item.
Chris Smotherman, an account representative for the firm, said the company sells a variety of items including baby carrots in a large number of packs, shredded carrots for both retail and foodservice, and of course, cello and bunch carrots. He said sales have been good and the fact that the firm can also offer its customers navel oranges from the same facility is a plus. “With the cost of freight being what it is, it definitely helps when a customer can pick up two items with one stop,” he said.
This is the fourth year Kern Ridge has been packing navel oranges at its southern San Joaquin Valley facility with production and sales increasing every year.
In the carrot category, Mr. Smotherman said the firm tends to specialize in the wholesale end of the business or with smaller retailers as the two very large California carrot shippers in the industry deal with the huge chains. Geographically, the company sells all over the country but the Kern Ridge salesman did single out the Los Angeles market as well as the northwest region as very strong customers.
One item that offers lots of sales but is also a bit problematic is carrot snack packs sold largely to school districts. “The schools buy tons of the baby carrot snacks but it is a very tough item,” he said. “There are extra costs associated with it.”
Mr. Smotherman said Kern Ridge offers kid snack packs in a multitude of sizes including 1-ounce, 1.3-ounces, 1.6 ounces, 2-ounces, 2.6-ounces and 3-ounces. He explained that new dietary guidelines from the federal government about portion size are being interpreted differently by different school districts. Hence, Kern Ridge has to carry many different sizes of snack packs and constantly change its packing operation. For example, he said with regard to carrots, the guidelines can be met by serving a 2.6-ounce snack pack once a week. But some school districts want to break that down to two different servings for the week and serve the 1.3-ounce sizes twice. Other school districts have different ways of calculating the guidelines and order still different ounce sizes.
And it is not a high margin sell. “We might be getting 80-85 cents a pound for the snack packs and only 60 cents a pound for the bulk carrots but there are a lot of costs involved in the snack packs. The margins aren’t very high.”
However, the Kern Ridge salesman said school districts buy a lot of carrots and during the school year it can account for as much as 20 percent of sales, which is very significant and all indications are that volume will increase with these new higher ounce guidelines that went into effect on Jan. 1.