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Bill Christopher: California garlic benefits from two-tiered market

Whether garlic supplies in the U.S. market are tight, as they have been over much of the past year, or abundant, as they are expected to be for much of the coming year, California garlic benefits from price differential in the market, vis-à-vis garlic from other producing areas in the market at the same time, according to Bill Christopher, president of Christopher Ranch LLC in Gilroy, CA.

“We created that two-tiered market with California garlic on one level and the Chinese and other imports on the other end,” Mr. Christopher said. That premium “is something we were able to carry on even with the price of Chinese garlic being higher this last year. We still had the two-tiered system which works for us.”

Christopher Ranch continues to tout “the benefits of California garlic,” and in particular the Christopher Ranch garlic, to “separate ourselves” from garlic from other areas and maintain price differential, he said July 19. Among the advantages he mentioned were the quality and health benefits of the product as well as the food safety practices employed on the farms, in the packinghouses and in the processing facilities.

“I think we are going to stick with that” in the company’s marketing message, “especially with the large crop of Chinese [garlic] that is coming in,” he said. “We still need to differentiate California garlic” from competing products “to keep that two-tiered market in effect.”

The larger supply of Chinese product expected in the U.S. market this year is anticipated to have an overall effect on prices. But that effect had yet to be felt, he said.

The California garlic harvest had been underway for several weeks, and “we still haven’t seen the pressure from the new-crop Chinese yet,” Mr. Christopher said. “They keep saying it is on its way. A little bit has arrived, I know, down in Florida, that I have seen, and it looks okay. But the big volumes have not arrived here in the United States yet. So marketing and price-wise, things haven’t really changed much. But we do expect it to change come August. For the present, we have pretty good markets.”

It remained to be seen to what extent customers would “stay with the California programs” because of concerns over “food- safety issues.” But “we think we have some pretty loyal customers,” and consumers are “paying attention to what they put in their mouths,” he said.

“We have a big crop of California” garlic this year, Mr. Christopher said. “We are just about through harvesting the early garlic, and we are starting harvesting the late garlic now. The crops look real good.” There was some staining on some of the early garlic due to rain, “but the late garlic is all white, and it is beautiful,” with good size, he said. “There will be good quantities for the whole season.”

Christopher Ranch packs whole fresh garlic in various retail packs “from two-bulb to five-bulb sleeves” and in one-pound, two-pound, three-pound, five-pound, 10-pound, 15-pound bags as well as 30-pound bulk cartons, “pretty much whatever the customer is looking for.”

The company offers peeled garlic in eight-ounce and one-pound bags for retail, in three-pound and five-pound bags for foodservice, and in 30-pound bags and 40-pound buckets for industrial applications.

Demand for garlic continues to grow, and “especially demand for California garlic,” Mr. Christopher said. During the past year, “we saw growth in the whole bulb sales at retail, where consumers are going into the store and buying the bulbs of garlic. I think because of the economy and the costs of going out to eat, people are eating more at home. So they are buying their own garlic from the stores,” peeling it themselves, and using it in their home meal preparation.

Christopher Ranch also offers an assortment of processed garlic products. For example, “we do chopped and crushed in jars. We do roasted garlic for retail” and for industrial use, he said.

On the marketing side, “we work with a lot of our customers in whatever way makes sense for them,” such as working with retailers on displays and recipes, said Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing, in mid-June.

Also, “we continue to work with our customers” to educate them about garlic, she said. That includes educating them on Christopher’s “special heirloom variety that has higher flavor levels,” something that is important to consumers and chefs alike.

The name of that heirloom variety is Monviso, and the varietal name is being featured on new packaging being introduced by Christopher Ranch this summer.

A press release from Christopher Ranch dated Aug. 1 tells the story. “Over 50 years ago, Don Christopher, the company founder, came upon the most flavorful variety of garlic he had ever tasted. As its origins were in the Piedmont area of italy, he christened the variety ‘Monviso’ for the region’s peaks and immediately set about nurturing the seed on his ranch in California’s Santa Clara Valley. Five decades later, Christopher Ranch proudly continues to cultivate and harvest the Monviso varietal exclusively, choosing to deliver garlic of exceptional flavor rather than plant higher yielding, inferior tasting varieties. In fact, Christopher Ranch Moviso garlic is the only heirloom garlic commercially gown in the U.S. today.”

“We have been perfecting the flavor of our California garlic for over 50 years,” states the web site. “Our heirloom garlic seed and the rich California soil give Christopher Ranch garlic its bold, full flavor that lasts from kitchen to table.”