Sage Fruit, a Yakima WA-based grower and shipper of Northwest tree fruit, continues to grow and innovate, and its prominence in the organic category started with a savvy decision made 20 years ago.
“We started with three family-owned warehouses that by themselves weren’t big enough to supply the Krogers, Safeways and Albertsons of the world, so we combined forces in 1999 and the three families started packing under the Sage label,” says Chuck Sinks, the company’s president, sales & marketing. “We recently added Valicoff Fruit and Vanguard to the Sage family, so now we have five locations all packing under the Sage label to offer apples, pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines and apricots.”
Chuck Sinks, President of Sage Fruit
The company takes great pride in its commitment to quality, innovation and service, and over the last few years, Sage Fruit’s growers and owners have made large investments in the growth of its organic fruit production to satisfy the increased demand from consumers.
“We know more and more consumers are going organic, with many millennials gravitating that way, and as they become more and more prevalent in the buying process, we know we have to keep up with the times and offer the products they are looking for,” Sinks says.
Although the company started a little behind the eight-ball when it came to organics, it has made big inroads into the segment of late. Just two years ago it had only 100,000 cartons of organic to sell, but last year that number increased 10-fold to 1 million cartons.
“This year, we expect even more as we have more orchards transitioning, so we expect about a million and a half cartons in 2019,” Sinks says. “We saw more and more consumers demanding organics and buyers growing the category, so we just took that story to the growers and told them we needed to start transitioning and it wasn’t a hard sell at all.”
Sage Fruit sees an increasing opportunity to do even more in organics and has continued to make it a top focus for the company. Sinks believes that retailers are doing a big part in helping to drive the category, and foresees demand to continue to be there.
“Those that make it an organic destination and not just have them blended in with current displays seems to be working best for the retailers we work with,” he says. “They seem to have greater sales than those who just add it to the mix.”
Of course, some departments aren’t big enough to offer an organic destination—especially independent retailers—and that can be a big challenge in increasing sales of the category.
“To help, we’ve created an organic bin for our apples and pears that some people utilize to create a destination,” Sinks says. “This is a way to separate their organics from their normal conventional fruit. It’s worked out real well for us and provided some good extra sales for those retailers.”
Other ways that Sage Fruit helps retailers is by holding contests based around organic adds or organic displays, to get the produce managers involved and fired up about the category as well.
Sage Fruit is still growing and is always looking to add new growers—those with the right fruit, the right quality and the right varieties. It also continues to make changes with the customers in mind.
“We came out with a five-pound pouch bag that we just rolled out at the beginning of 2019 and we’ve had a lot of success with that so far in the test markets we’ve used it in,” Sinks says. “It’s a great-looking pack, it’s a value pack, and it catches the consumers’ eye when they are in the store. It gives them the flexibility to grab five pounds when they are shopping for the larger family.”
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the growth plans Sage Fruit has in store in the years ahead.
“We have some exciting strategic plans in place to grow the company over the next five years to be one of the top four or five shippers in the state of Washington,” Sinks says. “We’ve got a good marketing team out in the field and we’re just excited about our overall growth and where we’re headed.”