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Despite recession, Samra has seen 25 percent growth for two years

LOS ANGELES — “We see the recession, but we have done very well for the last two years, and this year looks very exciting,” said Harbhajan Singh, president of Samra Produce & Farms Inc., here.

“Last year, our growth was 25 percent overall,” he said. He expects “probably another 25 percent growth this year.”

Many produce companies in Los Angeles are struggling, but whenever there is “a new situation” in business, be it a recession or a boom, “you have to adjust yourself,” he said. “Those people who adjust in a timely manner don’t get hurt.”

It is important to have something set aside “for rainy days,” and then when those rainy days arrive, to come up with a plan for “how to get more business during that kind of time,” Mr. Singh said. “It is basically planning. You plan, accordingly, how to cut your expense and how to get more sales.”

Seeing well over two years ago the that a downturn in the economy could affect his business, Mr. Singh relocated his Los Angeles operation from his previous location to the present warehouse, a move that he said reduced his monthly warehouse overhead from $30,000 a month to $10,000 a month.

The facility is actually an improvement in many respects, with “very good loading docks” and without the security problems he experienced previously, he said. Also, “the landlord is good. He is taking care of the tenants.”

Mr. Singh, who farms a variety of ethnic Indian and other specialty produce, most famously okra, in the Coachella Valley of California, has had his share of challenges and reversals over the years, including experiencing back-to-back devastating freezes his first two years farming in Coachella. Again, “we got hurt in 2008 from the freeze,” and a freeze in February of this year caused more losses.

But some of the plants and trees that appeared to be severely damaged in February, most notably the drumstick trees that appeared to be “completely wiped out” actually came back and are producing a good crop, on time. The jujube crop was lost to a freeze, but the trees survived and are “coming out very good now,” he said.

Samra will have a significant increase in production in its Coachella farming operation this year, Mr. Singh said. In okra, “we will have a lot more production this year than previous years. We are probably the biggest grower” of okra in the Coachella Valley now, and “we are going to be increasing every year. After some struggles, “now we’ve got the techniques” to grow the product successfully as well as “all the good packaging techniques” to produce a good-quality pack.

This year, Samra will be bringing in new items, including “more new specialties” as well as varieties that harvest “at different times” to fit “all the [marketing] windows.”

The company has added “new varieties of eggplants and some new varieties of squashes and new varieties of beans” this year.

At the same time, he said, “we are coming out with new marketing ideas and new packaging techniques.” The company is pushing for more chainstore business and “we will come up with different recipes on the packaging” to promote the products. “That will help on the marketing side, to get more customers.”

Samra has other specialty products in development for future seasons, Mr. Singh said. One is loquats. “I am trying to do it as a commercial crop,” he said. The other items he chose not to disclose yet, but did say they are “new items from East India and some other places.”