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Company, marketplace evolution continue to serve CF Fresh well

A long history in the organic arena continues to give CF Fresh a competitive edge. Addie Pobst, the company’s import coordinator and food safety officer, said the company has evolved and grown to meet today’s marketplace demand.

She spoke with The Produce News May 31 and reflected upon the state of organic production. “Today, organic is held to the same standards as conventional in terms of size, quality and appearance,” she commented. CF Fresh began operations as Rogers Brokerage back in the mid-1980s. Following a merger with Cascadian Farms Fresh and a subsequent divestiture, CF Fresh became its own entity in 1993. Ms. Pobst has been with the company, headquartered in Sedro Wooley, WA, since 1998.

CF Fresh has been solely dedicated to organic product since its inception. “Our customers are confident because we have been doing organic for a long time,” Ms. Pobst stated. And the company is knowledgeable about regulations at the federal, state and local levels to ensure best practices are employed for organic production.

Humble volumes available a few decades ago have burgeoned today in response to consumer demand. “Back then, we would pack all the fruit available,” she said to illustrate. She went on to say that blemished fruit isn’t acceptable to consumers today.

Interestingly, organic commodities continue to show strong growth among consumers despite a troublesome economy. Ms. Pobst was asked why this is the case. “The organic sector was not hurt the way conventional was,” she responded. “Organic customers are loyal. Organic matters to people. They stick with it.”

One factor for the sticking power relates to pesticide ingestion. “No one knows the long-term effect of building toxic levels in the body,” she commented. This is particularly true for parents who want their children to be healthy both now and in the future.

Interest in environmental responsibility and stewardship is also growing. According to Ms. Pobst, organic shoppers worry that intense growing practices for conventional commodities “are bad for the planet.”

“And chefs say they can taste the difference [in organic commodities],” she added. This sentiment resonates among organic producers who are increasingly farming their product for flavor.

She said that ongoing industry research shows that consumers who begin with a few organic items in their shopping carts tend to expand their organic purchase throughout the grocery store over time.

CF Fresh is in full swing with its Chilean organic apple import program. Good volumes of Fuji, Cripps Pink and Granny Smith and small amounts of Braeburns are available. Organic Red Delicious is being imported from Argentina. “We are wrapping up a fast-moving Argentine pear [program],” she added.

On the domestic front, CF fresh is ready to ramp up with organic cherries and apricots out of California. Organic California Bartlett pears will also be available in July. “We’ll have some stone fruit out of Washington [in July and August],” she noted.

The company’s import program comprises approximately 25 percent of overall product volume. Ms. Pobst said CF Fresh works with approximately 60 domestic growers and a dozen out-of-country growers. On the food-safety front, she said, “We work with all growers regardless of their location.”

She was asked about food-safety regulations abroad. “Out-of-country growers have grown for the export market, so the bar is historically higher,” she replied. “They are used to thinking about how they’re going to get a certification that resonates with buyers 3,000 miles away.” CF Fresh is working toward GAP certification for all its growers.

CF Fresh is a member of the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association, which helps the trade become more sustainable through emphasis on organic and natural products. Ms. Pobst said association activities include promoting food mile reductions, use of environmentally friendly packaging materials and promoting bike-to-work programs for employees.