“Traditionally, the only thing we packed and sold was fruit that we grew ourselves, and that was only Navels and Valencias,” said Neil Galone, vice president of marketing and sales for Booth Ranches LLC, in Orange Cove, CA. “But we have been getting more and more pressure from some of our customers” to offer other types of citrus. So, “in a bit of a departure from our long-time strategy of only packing what we grow ourselves,” Mr. Galone said. This year the company has partnered with some growers of Mandarins, particularly W. Murcotts.
It will be “our first year when we will be offering something other than” Navels and Valencias, he said. “We will have some Murcotts to offer from late January through March,” about a 10-week period, which is “brand new for us.”
It was a change that was made with some reluctance and only when the company was able to identify some growers “who we felt have the same long-term strategy and philosophy that we do,” Mr. Galone said.
The current plan is to pack the Murcotts in the “Booth” label, he said. “We won’t be packing them ourselves. We have put together a partnership with Enns Packing” in Dinuba, CA. “They will pack them for us under our quality control.”
Booth’s Navel program has been expanding steadily over the last several years and is expected to do so for several years to come. Mr. Galone expected the company’s Navel volume to be just under 3 million boxes this year, and to peak at about 5 million to 5.5 million boxes when young orchards all have full production.
“We have been a grower selling our own fruit,” he said. “But as we get bigger ... and our customer base expands, we are having to become more of a marketing company,” and that means being customer responsive.
“We are trying to respond to customer demands,” he said. “And as we have found people that we are very happy with their growing techniques and their philosophy on growing, we are optimistic that this will be a good addition to our program.”
The Mandarins are just the beginning of a planned diversification in the company’s citrus offerings. “Assuming that we are successful, which I know we will be,” other items that customers have been asking for will be added in future seasons, he said.
“We actually do grow a few Murcotts ourselves,” Mr. Galone added. “We also grow some lemons. But the problem is that we have grown so few that it has been too few to put a real program around. We have enough Murcotts [from the company’s own ranches] to last for about 10 days. You can’t go to your customers and say, ‘We’ve got 10-days’ worth of Murcotts.’ You’ve got to have a program.”
Booth Ranches has “such a strong customer base” that it would be “a shame for us not to use that opportunity” to fill customers’ needs better by offering other products that they are asking for, he said.
In Booth’s continued expansion of its Navel program, most of the new plantings are later varieties, Mr. Galone said. “With Navels, the only fruit that we pack and sell is fruit that we grow ourselves. We don’t take in fruit from outside growers. We have a pretty good bell curve: starting in late October, ramping up by mid-January, then falling back off again once we get into April and May. What we are trying to do is extend that to plateau a little later in the season so much of our increased new volume will be in the late varieties.”
On the packaging side, “over the last three years or so, we have seen a lot of expansion” in bag business, Mr. Galone said. “There is still good demand” for bulk cartons, but many retailers now “will display both bulk and bags,” offering consumers a choice.
Three years ago, “we were able to do about two-and-a-half loads of bags a day,” he said. “Now we are able to do nearly seven loads of bags a day, and that change has been a reaction to the demand of the customers.”