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Carrot sales continue to climb; supply outlook promising

Though it is considered a staple product and doesn’t generate an extreme amount of excitement, carrot sales have garnered considerable growth during the past year and are actually in the midst of a pretty good five-year run.

Bob Borda, vice president of marketing for Grimmway Farms in Bakersfield, CA, one of the nation’s leading grower-shippers of fresh carrots, revealed in late February that scan data shows a 4 percent increase in sales in the category over the past 52 weeks. He said the overall numbers show that baby carrot sales have been flat, while the value-added category is experiencing high single-digit growth and organic carrots are showing double-digit growth.

Perhaps surprisingly, whole carrots are also in a growth mode. Borda attributes this to the growing “foodie” category of people who love to cook at home and use whole commodities. He added that the juicing craze has also worked in the favor of carrots, as it is an excellent item to juice with good yield and good nutrition.

Carrots just may be one of those items that defies being categorized as it appears to have done well both during the recession, when people were cutting back, and post recession, when people are experimenting again with the foods they eat. Borda confirmed that sales have been good since 2008 when the poor economic times were at their peak and people were hunkering down and staying inside. More home-cooked meals meant an increase in sales for carrots.

Carrots are also a very popular item for school districts trying to meet established rules about increasing the percentage of fruits and vegetables that they serve. For both school lunch programs and moms at home, Borda said, portion-size packs of carrots are very popular. It is a very easy way, he said, for school kids and others to get good-tasting nutrition in an easy pack.

Consumers looking for carrots should have no trouble finding them over the next several months. In late February, Chris Smotherman, a sales representative for Kern Ridge Growers LLC in Arvin, CA, predicted a seamless transition from the San Joaquin Valley to the Imperial Valley, also in California. He said Kern Ridge was in the midst of transitioning its baby carrot operations to the desert that week and Imperial would be providing the bulk of that crop by the first week in March. The whole carrot production team will transition to Imperial a couple of weeks later in mid- to late March, he said.

ike most California crops, carrots follow the sun up and down the state. It is basically a six-month crop from planting to harvest. With the San Joaquin Valley’s winter crop concluding in March, the harvest transitions to Imperial Valley, which will provide most of the state’s carrots until mid-May. In the meantime, the spring crop (May-June harvest) from San Joaquin is mostly in the ground by late February, although there is still some planting to be done.

Smotherman said California’s well-publicized drought should not have a huge effect on this year’s carrot supplies. “Of course, growers are concerned but most of the growers are operating on well water and they will not be impacted by the lack of rain this year. Next year might be a different story.”