Anthony Vineyards began transitioning its grape acreage to organic production about a dozen years ago. Today, the firm claims to be the largest organic grape shipper in the United States with about 60-70 percent of its annual California production certified organic.
OPN recently talked to John Harley, vice president of sales and marketing for the firm, about the changing buying habits of the U.S. consumer and the continued growth in the category.
OPN Connect: What’s driving the growth of organics in the produce department? It still appears to be in the double digit range. Is it coming from the consumer or is the retail community building demand?
John Harley: “It’s the consumer that is driving the growth. About six or seven years ago, we had one retailer where we were looking at 20-25 percent year over year growth in sales. We showed him the numbers and said take that to the accounting department. Show them the growth. That’s what we needed to do to get them on board.”
OPN Connect: You have been observing the growth of the category for about a dozen years, have consumer attitudes changed?
John Harley: “A generational shift is occurring. A lot of Baby Boomers are interested in what they eat and they like the organic alternative. But for the millennials and whatever the generation is that is between the Millennials and the Baby Boomers, it is a philosophical buy. They have embraced organic produce. They have a perception that it is better for you and more nutritious. It’s a different mindset.”
OPN Connect: Some retailers are very proactive in merchandising the organic category and others are not; what’s the difference?
John Harley: “The buyer is not making the decision, it’s corporate. The philosophy of the chain is most important…and some have complete buy-in. I’m not just talking about grapes but many other produce item. At one retail store I saw a complete apple section that only had organics.”
OPN Connect: Some consumers of organic produce are not happy with a lot of packaging. On the other hand, it’s difficult to make sure the product is rung up accurately in the front of the store if it isn’t in packaging.
John Harley: Anthony Vineyards sells all of its organic grapes in packaging clearly marked ‘Anthony’s Organics’ with a UPC or PLU number. In the early days of selling organic grapes, the retailers were carrying them and the consumers were buying them but they weren’t being identified correctly by the cashier. We weren’t getting credit. The packaging does have another advantage as well. Consumers want to know who is growing this product. You can use the space on the packaging to let them know.”
OPN Connect: Tell us a little bit about the 2017 California organic grape harvest?
John Harley: “The first organic grapes were harvested May 11 and we will have uninterrupted supplies until at least December 1. The early market is very strong on organic grapes, but by early June, we expect promotable volume with some ad buy pricing. That situation should occur again in late July after we transition t