In 2015, Sun Pacific Marketing Cooperative began transitioning substantial portions of its grape acreage to organic production through both new plantings and graftings. This season about 23 percent of the four million boxes of grapes the company ships will be organic.
Howard Nager, vice president of business development, said 2018 will see a significant increase in organic grapes as well as organic production of kiwifruit, the company’s proprietary Cuties brand mandarins and other citrus varieties. “We jumped in with two feet,” he said. “With organics, you can’t do it halfway or do it with one foot.”
He noted at the recent Organic Produce Summit in Monterey the hot topic of conversation was lack of organic supplies. Sun Pacific headquartered in Pasadena, CA, with organic production throughout the San Joaquin Valley, is addressing that concern and admittedly making the commitment as a marketing play.
This year, eight of the 14 grape varieties Sun Pacific sells have been available organically. Next year all varieties will be available both conventionally and organically. He said overall production will increase to close to five million boxes next year and up to six million within two to three years. “Next year we expect our organic grape production to be almost 40 percent of our total production,” meaning the firm’s organic production should more than double to close to two million cartons.
Nager said organic production of all of its crop is a more expensive proposition than growing conventionally. Currently many crops are experiencing a demand-exceeds-supply situation with premium pricing usually in play. “To make the switch is a financial decision as it relates to returns. If it gets to the point where there is downward pressure on organic pricing to the conventional level, you’d have to assess it financially,” he said.
Nager added the explosion in new varieties of a number of crops – including grapes and apples – which have seen premium pricing for these new items that tout better taste. He believes that situation is on trend and organic production is part of that mix.
Nager remains bullish about increased consumption of fruits and vegetables in the United States driven by such factors as taste and a connection to the food. “Fresh produce is one of the few items where consumers can still touch a product and pick exactly what they want. The industry has responded well with new packaging and new products and organic produce is a very important part of that," he said.